Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
In late February I paid $23.95 for a 50-pound bag of black oil sunflower seed. That’s 48 cents a pound. That’s a good price. You can pay more, no question.
The price of black oil sunflower seed depends on many things, particularly on where you buy it and in what quantity. This has been an economical winter for ius as far as seed is concerned because our bird traffic is way down. Birds eat less, we buy less. Readers tell me they too have feeders with more down time.
There’s been a drop in the price of sunflower seed across the country because our odd winter has cut demand in more yards than ours.
We found our good deal at Krause Seeds and Supplies in Hope, Minnesota, about an hour south of the Twin Cities along I-35.
I’ll bet you’ve been paying more than 48 cents a pound for sunflower seed; we have. We bought a bag from Jim Krause even though we had about 70 pounds on hand.
The next day, I made some calls to see what prices one would pay here, in “the cities” as Krause says.
I called three bird-supply stores and a hardware store. The bird-store prices ranged from 68 cents to $1 per pound, in 20- to 40-pound bags. The hardware store price was so high it had wings -- $1.80 per pound. Of course, they’re selling 10-pound bags, a convenience for people who don’t want or need large bags of seed.
The Krause price was 20 cents per pound cheaper than the best price I found “in the cities”. I did speak with one fellow who told me his price was $25 for a 50-pound bag, or 50 cents a pound. Turned out he’s a wholesaler.
Contacting commodity dealers for information on seed pricing in general (all I learned was it’s complicated) it was suggested I check seed prices at Fleet Farm stores. The gentleman I spoke with said Fleet buys a lot of seed. I called one of the two Fleet Farm stores in the metro area. On Monday, March 5, it was selling 40 pounds of sunflower seed for $18.99, a sale price good until the 10th.
That’s 47.5 cents a pound, a smidgen below the Krause price. Fleet’s regular price for 40 pounds is $21.89.
At Krause’s, though, you get to visit with Jim and with Jane Engle, Jim’s sidekick. That’s a big bonus. They also sell Hope butter there, made in the Hope creamery just down the street (for two bucks per pound less than Lund’s price). This is world-class butter. Super butter. The personalities and the butter, not to mention the seed, are well worth the stop if you’re in the Hope neighborhood.
Black oil sunflower was developed in the 20-year span from the 1930s to the 1950s by a Russian scientist named V. S. Pustovoit. The idea was to increase the oil content of the seed, oil the product with the most value. The high oil content is what makes the seed so attractive to birds, oil equating to the high caloric intake needed for winter survival.
I wondered if Russians feed sunflower seeds to their yard birds. Sunflower is an important crop in Russia. Black oil sunflower, a variety high in oil and widely fed to birds here, was developed in Russia. It turns out that Russians, Moskovites anyway, do feed birds. In February they were being urged to put food out to help birds survive a particularly bitter stretch of cold days. The Moscow Times carried a story that recommend birds be offered roasted sunflower seeds, unsalted pork fat, dried fruit, and wheat and dry white breadcrumbs. Avoid black bread, the story said, as it can upset bird stomachs.
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