Breeding of high oleic sunflowers

Sunflower oil plays a major role as a raw material in the organic food and natural cosmetics sector. High oleic (HO) sunflower oil in particular is increasingly gaining in importance. This is because HO sunflower oils contain a high percentage of oleic acid (over 78 percent), which makes them nutritionally beneficial. The high percentage of monounsaturated oleic acid means that these oils are relatively insensitive to heat and light, making them especially suitable for cooking oil and for the production of cosmetics.

Organic sunflower seed initiative

Today's organic farms, however, cultivate mainly hybrid sunflowers that come almost exclusively from two large seed companies, some of which are even patented. But organic farmers have no choice, as the seed market doesn't offer any alternatives. In order to improve this situation, also with a view to producing bee-friendly varieties and securing genetic resources, the Peter Kunz and Weleda companies started to conduct growing trials with different varieties in 2005. These long-term, detailed trials led to the foundation of the Biosaatgut Sonnenblumen (organic sunflower seed) initiative.

The companies All Organic Trading, Bioland Handelsgesellschaft, Bioland Markt, Byodo Naturkost, Carl Geiger, Dreher Agrarrohstoffe, Fenaco, HUOBER Brezel, Marbacher Ölmühle, Naturata, Rapunzel Naturkost, Wala Heilmittel and WELEDA, all active in the field of oils and seeds, joined forces in 2012 to support the Getreidezüchtung Peter Kunz (Peter Kunz cereal breeding) in the organic breeding of high oleic sunflower varieties. Thanks to these organic companies, the funding of the project is initially secured for five years.

The objective is to breed a healthy variety with the desired properties:

  • high oil content of the seed
  • high oleic acid content of the oil
  • stable plant health
  • good adaption to the conditions of organic farming
  • sufficient yield

In the initial test years, different HO strains were crossed with each other. From the new varieties that were produced the growers selected those which proved to have a good oil content and good health. The first harvest, test pressing and analysis, as well as the sensory evaluation of the oil, all pointed to a promising development. However, until the sunflower variety has all the desired properties, the growers still have a few more years of selection ahead.

What is remarkable and innovative about this project is the collaboration of such a wide range of stakeholders from across the entire value-creation chain of the organic sector – with producer associations, processing companies and retail companies all among the sponsors. Out of a sense of responsibility for this cultivated crop, the industry players are joining forces in a targeted non-profit breeding initiative.

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