The program allows seed companies to enter their products into crop trials and then specialists, such as Trostle, provide data on yields, oilseed sunflower oil content, or the ratio between the large and small confectionary seed.

Trostle is also working with U.S. Department of Agriculture in Fargo, N.D., on a project in Lubbock to screen for the sunflower head moth. They have found that some sunflowers are less susceptible to damage from the insect.

"We tend to have more of a problem here than in the Dakotas," he said.

In trials at the North Plains Research Field near Etter, Trostle is evaluating both confectionary and oilseed sunflower hybrids for producers.

"We are interested in the larger seed size for the confectionary," he said. "The sunflowers in a test like this where we have many different types of confectionary varieties or hybrids are evaluated not just for yield in terms of what farmers would be paid for, but also for the size of the seed."

Larger confectionary seed is usually worth about 50 percent more than the smaller seed, Trostle said.

Nationally, there are about 1 million acres annually of oilseed sunflowers and 400,000 to 500,000 acres of confectionary. But in Texas, the acreage is usually about 60 percent confectionary due to proximity to the confectionary market, while there is only one small sunflower seed crushing facility at Brownfield. The rest must go to Lamar, Colo., or Goodland, Kan.

Texas High Plains sunflower acreage fluctuates from 40,000 to 100,000 acres a year depending on the price for sunflowers, as well as the price of competing crops such as cotton in the South Plains or corn in the Panhandle, Trostle said. The statewide total ranges from 60,000 to 125,000 acres.

Historically, the heaviest producing counties are Lamb and Bailey in the northwest South Plains, Lynn and Dawson counties south of Lubbock, and Moore and Dallam counties in the Panhandle.