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The organic sunflower seeds initiative


Rapunzel & other organic companies support seedfast sunflower seeds project
Today, even most organic farmers use hybrid sunflower seeds. The reason for this: there are no other seeds available on the market. Therefore, Rapunzel and other organic companies are supporting the Initiative Organic Sunflower Seeds (IBS). The initaitive has the goal to breed organic, high-oleic sunflower seeds. 

Seed are often patented

Currently, most of the available hybrid sunflower seeds are produced by two large seed corporations. Some of the seeds are even patented. Other types of sunflower seeds are not available. Therefore, in 2012, Rapunzel Naturkost joined forces with several other organic companies to support the breeding of organic seeds. 
First cultivation trials with different seeds that were performed in 2005 by Peter Kunz and by Weleda marked the very beginning of this project. These trials had the goal to improve the situation on the seed market, to develop bee friendly varieties and to protect and secure genetic resources. Some years later, the IBS project was initiated. In 2017, the first, newly bred organic population was cultivated at different geographical sites and the first field trials were carried out. 
Organic HO sunflowers were bred to have these properties:
 
  • seeds with high oil content 
  • high-oleic acid concentration in the sunflower oil
  • stable plant health
  • good adapation to organic cultivation conditions
  • sufficient yield
Promising development

In the summer 2019, the Weleda laboratories could verify an 90 % average high oleic acid content - this was a big success for the Initiative. The results convinced the breeders that the breeding of the new sunflower variety was finished and that the seeds can be cultivated by organic farmers in 2020 after a field trial was completed. 

What's so special about high-oleic sunflower oils?


High-oleic sunflower oils are nutritionally important due to an oleic acid concentration that surpasses 75 percent. The higher the oleic acid concentration the less sensitive to light and the more heat-stable the oil. Consequently, the oil can be heated to higher temperatures without the formation of trans-fatty acids. High-oleic sunflower oils are therefore especially suitable as frying oils, but also for the production of cosmetics.  

The following organic companies support the Organic Sunflower Seed Initiative 


  • All Organic Trading
  • Bioland Handelsgesellschaft
  • Bioland Markt
  • Byodo Naturkost
  • Carl Geiger
  • Dreher Agrarrohstoffe
  • Fenaco
  • Huober Brezel
  • Marbacher Ölmühle
  • Naturata
  • Rapunzel Naturkost
  • Wala Heilmittel
  • Weleda

Diversity in the color, the pattern and the shape of the seeds


Fadi Kanso from Sativa Rheinau talks about the breeding of the new organic sunflower varieties

Organic breeder Fadi Kanso from Sativa Rheinau talks about the breeding of new, organic sunflower varieties.
Organic breeder Fadi Kanso from Sativa Rheinau talks about the breeding of new, organic sunflower varieties.
Organic breeder Fadi Kanso from Sativa Rheinau talks about the breeding of new, organic sunflower varieties.
What makes the breeding of sunflowers so interesting for you?
„I am excited about the great potential that can be found in the sunflower. As a crop plant, the sunflower is relatively new. Therefore it has not yet been intensely edited by breeders as is the case with wheat. Thus, the sunflower still has many wild and unknown aspects. This makes the sunflower more talkative for me.“

Why are the flowers protected by nets?
„A plant gets selected on the basis of positive traits. The nets are used in order to preserve these traits and to avoid crossbreeding with other plants. Moreover, high-oleic sunflower varieties should not flower at the same time with other varieties that do not have the high-oleic acid trait in order to avoid a genetic exchange, because the high-oleic acid trait is a recessive trait that would disappear in case of such a genetic exchange. In order to avoid additional crossings it is also very important to keep a minimum distance of one kilometer from other fields. 
As pollinators, we use houseflies in net hoods - so-called isolation hoods. Bumblebees or bees are not suitable for this process; they are used as pollinators either in greenhouses or in the open."

For which traits do you select the plants?
„During the planning phase, we first have to discuss the desired plant traits with the farmers. If the farmers for example decide on an optimal plant height of 1.50 to 1.60 meters then I will select exactly these plants. Altogether, I am looking at about 100 different traits.“

Which aspects are more important to organic breeders in comparison to conventional colleagues?
„For me, the field emergence and the juvenile development are particularly important aspects, because organic plants must prevail against competing weeds. Plant health and disease tolerance are also very important in organic cultivation.“
Why are there also sunflowers that are not bee-friendly? 
„There are many characteristics that are important for bees, such as the amount of pollen, its stickiness and its size. If the pollen is too sticky, it will be harder for the bee to clean itself after pollination. If the nectare is located too far down in the flower tubes, the bee will not be able to reach it with its cootie. Modern sunflower hybrids are suspected of being bee-unfriendly - this is, however, not yet proven.“

What is your favorite moment during sunflower breeding?
„The moment when I pick up the seeds after threshing in order to examine them for differences. There is so much variety in the colors, the patterns and the shape of the sunflower seeds. Some seeds are round like a small pea, others have a tip like a needle.“

How to breed sunflowers

  • At first, the breeders collect sunflowers with the desired traits. Cultivating the different sunflowers together will result in genetic crossing. Subsequently, the plants with the best properties are selected.
  • In the next year, the new, mixed seeds are sown.
  • During the selection years, the plants with the best properties are selected and isolated prior to the flowering period. 
  • The plants with the best maturity traits are harvested, separately threshed and cleaned for the next cycle. 
  • It takes about six to eight years until a new variety was bred. 
Nets are used in order to preserve certain traits and to avoid crossbreeding with other plants.
Nets are used in order to preserve certain traits and to avoid crossbreeding with other plants.
Nets are used in order to preserve certain traits and to avoid crossbreeding with other plants.

Pollinator house flies are put into net hoods on the flowers of the sunflowers.
Pollinator house flies are put into net hoods on the flowers of the sunflowers.
Pollinator house flies are put into net hoods on the flowers of the sunflowers.

The sunflower seeds vary with respect to their color, pattern and shape.
The sunflower seeds vary with respect to their color, pattern and shape.
The sunflower seeds vary with respect to their color, pattern and shape.
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