A seed merchant based in north Suffolk says there is "significant" interest in growing sunflowers as a crop this year - and it expects its popularity to grow over the next five years.

With rising global temperatures, the crop - grown for its seeds - can work well in the UK, said Grainseed, which is based in Eye in north Suffolk.

There was a "brilliant opportunity" to grow the crop this spring, said Grainseed, which said its best-selling variety in the UK is Es Bella.

This is sold by United Oilseeds which has introduced the first UK pool for sunflowers.

East Anglian Daily Times:

Grainseed general manager Neil Groom said there was significant interest in growing sunflowers. “Bella is an early maturing variety and is the best performing variety in trials,” he added.

The company's sunflower specialist, Edward Stanford, was responsible for trials last year.

“Little trials work had been done in the UK since the early 2000s until last year. With climate change and increasing temperatures, the geographic area has already expanded for sunflowers in the UK," he said.

"Sunflowers can be successfully produced south of a line from the Wash to the Bristol Channel but this area has now expanded northwards.

"I can see sunflowers really flourishing in the UK within five years, and early adopters can try out this great alternative spring crop in 2024."

In the UK trial. some varieties were too early, admitted Edward, while others did not yield high enough and others were too tall and needed expensive growth regulation.

However, Bella was suited to the UK and was the highest-yielding variety in trials, he said.

The crop achieved £350 to £400/tonne via the United Oilseeds Marketing Pool.

"There is an upward trend in demand and sunflowers provide a great break crop as well as brightening up the agricultural landscape," said Neil.

Edward added: “We are aware that the area of winter wheat, winter barley and winter rape are all down this year due to the very wet autumn and winter weather, so there is a huge opportunity to try something different this spring and grow sunflowers.”

The crop is drilled from April 10 onwards, allowing growers a bit more time to consider their options, he said.

"We also know that with climate change and increasing temperatures, the suitable geographic area has already expanded well northwards,” he added.

Edward said it was also worth considering some of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) actions which could add value to the crop.

Edward Vipond, farm manager at Troston Farms near Bury St Edmunds grew a sizeable number of sunflowers - 60ha in total - last year and found them a reliable crop. He sold his crop for birdseed.