Millions of Canterbury sunflowers heading for bottling plant

Millions of sunflowers on the Darling's farm will soon be harvested and turned into sunflower oil.
Millions of sunflowers on the Darling's farm will soon be harvested and turned into sunflower oil. Photo credit: RNZ

By Eleisha Foon of RNZ

It's hard not to miss the bright sea of yellow which turns heads just south of Timaru on State Highway 1.

Millions of sunflowers on a South Canterbury farm, are just weeks away from harvest.

Row upon row, standing two feet tall, they're past their best now and are beginning to sag.

By next month the sunflower seeds will be processed into cooking oil, making it one of New Zealand's only locally grown sunflower oil - soon to be ready for the domestic market.

It's harvest season and Andrew Darling's about to take over running this farm from his dad Warren.

"We have all grown up on this bit of land, I guess it makes your family income come from it as well. There's a lot of passion that goes into growing," Andrew said.

He will be the fourth generation on the property.

He and his father grow sunflowers as part of a crop rotation which includes wheat, beans, hemp, rapeseed and barley, which Warren still proudly holds the world record for.

Warren's grandfather bought the property in the 1940s and it's became a true family affair for these Timaru locals, who solely run the operation.

"I guess you can call me the old man... I've sort of been here for the last 40 years anyway... running the operation. I took over from my father... there was a lot of sheep, sheep and beef, very little crop and now we've changed it round to 100 percent crop in the last 20 years," Warren said.

Millions of Canterbury sunflowers heading for bottling plant
Photo credit: Supplied / Andrew Darling

From November the ground is prepared and precision planting happens, then the flowers come full bloom from late January to February over eight weeks.

But, it's during that time the Darling's farm becomes a prime selfie spot, which can be a bit of a nuisance and safety hazard.

"I don't mind the people who come over and ask if they can climb the fence and take some photos... but the ones that just pull up, jump over the fence, most times they usually break the fence... last year three campervans ran into each other... so luckily we don't have the tourists this year. But that's the sort of thing you are up against," Warren said.

The flowers will be ready for harvest in the first week of April and are stored in huge silos until it's ready to go through a machine which dries the seeds and can process up to 15 tonnes an hour.

The sunflowers will be turned into oil.
The sunflowers will be turned into oil. Photo credit: RNZ

Next month, the Hialice sunflowers will be cold pressed by Pure oil.

The Darling men then deliver the seeds to make Good Oil sunflower oil which you'll find on supermarket shelves throughout the country.

About 25,000 bottles of oil are produced from a good yield.

Sharing in their fruits of their labour - living and working together - the Darling family knows that hard work pays off.

"As long as there is beer at the end of the day it works quite well," Warren said.

"The boys working here sort of realise that over my 40 years I've learnt a lot, probably a lot of knowledge that I can pass on to them as well. Plus they are bringing in new ideas as well... we are able to sit around the table and discuss it all."

They'll be working every day in the lead up to delivering the sunflower seeds next month before they are processed, bottled and ready to be poured out as liquid gold.