Although sunflowers are generally associated with cooking oil, it is their use as a snack food like potato chips that may provide an alternative market for Australian growers.
The "split and spit" market, so called because the snack sunflower seeds are eaten by splitting the seed hulls and spitting them out, is well established in South-East Asia and the Middle East, and is seen as a market of interest for the Australasian seed production company Lefroy Seeds.
Mr Neil Weier, marketing director of Lefroy Seeds, says it has been a challenge to import the particular variety of sunflower seeds needed for this market.
"Quarantine restrictions require all imported sunflower seeds be grown and tested under quarantine, which slows the introduction, breeding and evaluation process," he says.
Nonetheless, Mr Weier says the company hopes to be releasing "split and spit" seed varieties to growers in the next two years.
For the "split and spit" market, the visual appearance of seeds is more important than it is for oil-producing varieties or varieties used in the de-hulling market for addition to muesli and muesli bars, Mr Weier says.
For example, the "split and spit" sunflower seeds need to have a shell that is at least two centimetres in length - significantly longer than those of the seeds for the other markets.
"Also, to be aesthetically pleasing, they must have clean, clearly-marked stripes running along the shell."
One of the drawbacks previously experienced with these snack varieties of sunflower is that they tend to be lower yielding and have a greater susceptibility to diseases than the sunflower varieties for the oilseed and de-hulling markets.
"We are working on germplasm development to produce varieties with greater yield capacity and disease resistance, which is showing good promise" says Mr Weier.
"We have a number of hybrids with improved characteristics, and we are looking to test one or two of these in small trials on growers" properties next year.
For more information: Mr Neil Weier, 0429 622 056.
Sunflower seeds: the two large varieties are those suitable for the "split and spit" market.