Safflower is grown for both oil and meal. There are two types of safflower oil, those high in monounsaturated fatty acid (oleic) and those high in polyunsaturated fatty acid (linoleic). Currently, the predominant oil market is for those varieties that produce seed high in oleic acid and very low in saturated fatty acids. High oleic safflower oil is lower in saturates and higher in mono-unsaturates than olive oil. Recently, a Canadian Biochemical company has been able to accumulate commercially viable levels of insulin from Safflower, which has the potential to dramatically influence the economics of insulin production. The meal, which is about 24 percent protein and high in fibre, is used as a protein supplement for livestock and poultry feed.
Safflower is a thistle-like plant with a strong central branch stem, a varying number of branches, and a tap-root system. Each branch will usually have from one to five flower heads containing 15 to 20 seeds per head. The seed oil content ranges from 30 to 45 percent. Flower colour is usually yellow or orange, although some varieties have red or white flowers.
Safflower is typically sown in April or early May with seedlings emerging one to three weeks later. Early seedling growth and development is slow. Plants begin forming floral buds in late June and flower in mid to late July with maturation occurring about four weeks after flowering ends. Current seed yields range from 0.75t/ha to 1.5t/ha, but average world yields currently stand at about 0.8t/ha.
Nitrogen rates will vary depending on the expected yield, but with average yields as they stand at present, approximately 40-50kg/ha should be applied to the seedbed. Sulphur deficiencies are uncommon but may occur early in the growing season on light soils. Deficiencies of micronutrients have not been recorded for safflower.
The crop is most suited to hot dry climates. The northern European climate is warm enough for crop growth and development, but maturity does not occur until late autumn.
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