Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) is one of the few crop species that originated in North America (most originated in the Fertile Crescent, Asia or South or Central America). It was probably a “camp flower” of several of the western native American tribes (North American Indians) who domesticated the crop (possibly 1000 BC) and then carried it eastward and southward in North America.
The first Europeans observed sunflower cultivation in many places from southern Canada to Mexico and Spain. Sunflower was probably first introduced to Europe through Spain, and spread through Europe until it reached Russia, where it was adapted readily. Selection for high oil in Russia began in 1860 and was largely responsible for increasing the oil content from 28 % to almost 50 %. The high-oil lines from Russia were reintroduced into the U.S. after World War II, which rekindled interest in the crop. However, it was the discovery of the male-sterile and restorer gene system that made hybrids feasible and increased the commercial interest in the crop.
The production of sunflower, which is the important source of vegetable oil in South Africa, is most prevalent in the summer rainfall areas. Local annual production for sunflower seed ranges between 500 000 to 700 000 tons. The fluctuations in production levels are mainly caused by uncertain price expectations, high input cost and high stock levels. The average yield ranges from 1,2 to 1,8 t/ha under dry land.
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