Extreme weather conditions have drastically cut sunflower seed production in Italy for 2002/2003.
In a recent statement the Italian farm research body ISMEA predicted a hefty 26 per cent fall in sunflower seed output for the 2003/2004 season to 257,000 tonnes, down from 350,000 for the previous year.
An unusually hot spring and summer leading to drought conditions are the key factors involved in the predicted slump in the harvest.
Umbria in central Italy - the principal sunflower farming area - is particularly affected with an estimated loss of 20 per cent of the output, compared to 12 per cent in the Marche. But worse still is the Molise area where ISMEA predicts a loss of 50 per cent.
On a more optimistic note, the group said that the quality of the crop is high, thanks to low humidity levels and a lack of parasite attacks.
The European Union produced 2.7m tonnes of sunflower seeds in 2002/03, forecast to reach 2.8m tonnes for the 2003/2004 period.
Sunflower oil, rich in Vitamin E, is a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with low saturated fat levels. There are three types of sunflower oil available; NuSun, linoleic and high oleic sunflower oil. A non-transgenic vegetable oil, sunflower oil is used extensively by food manufacturers.