A joint venture between a Cornish farmer and an award winning artisan food producer will see the UK’s first commercial sunflower crop grown specifically to create cooking oil.

Sunflower seeds have just been drilled in 16 acres by Nick Dymond on his farm at Trispen near Truro, Cornwall.

When the seeds are harvested in the autumn it’s over to Jack Baines from Hard Pressed Cornwall who will cold press the crop to produce high-quality sunflower oil.

There are only a handful of commercial sunflower growers in the UK who produce feed for birds.

This is the first crop known to be planted in the UK destined for human consumption.

Jack Baines, a former chef from nearby Carnon Downs founded Hard Pressed Cornwall. The brand’s rapeseed oil is produced from crops grown in North Cornwall and Jack was keen to source the sunflower seed for his products within the county.

He said: “This joint venture was inspired by the recent push for consumers to ‘buy local’. We are a proud nation and fully believe we are capable of being self-reliant, so this project aims but that to the test. With changes in climate and technological advancements in agriculture, we have never been in a better position to challenge what can be achieved on home soil.

“Cornwall is the obvious place to start, not only because it's home, but our agriculture is special, for whatever reason, local produce just tastes better. We also hope the sunflowers will bring a splash of colour and few smiles, offering something potentially more important to the local community during these uncertain times”

The duo have distributed more 100 local families eager to grow their own sunflowers and positive about the new crop with seeds, so the area will be awash with colour in the summer.

Impressed by Jack’s products and ambition to source locally, the collaboration also provides Nick with an opportunity to take a healthier slice of the profit margin.

He said: “Farmers are very good at producing food, but generally not so good at finding or creating a lucrative home for it, which makes us price takers, not makers. Jack already had incredible products and a route to market, so asking me to try and grow a crop which is not so far out of my comfort zone was no big deal.”

The diversification offers more than just a potential new income stream, as Nick explains.

“One of the challenges of an arable rotation against the backdrop of diminishing livestock numbers is to find a break crop that doesn't take more out of the soil than it returns. Cornwall, in particular, is awash with very extractive break crops such as daffodils and potatoes which offer lucrative, risk-free rental income.

“This comes at a huge cost to the soil and the wider environment. In our rotation, we use grass leys, brassicas and maize as break crops, all of which are less extractive, but they don’t leave the soil in a better condition than before.

“We intend to grow the sunflowers without using any chemicals. We’re working once more with Will Iliffe of Kernow Agronomy and have proven that wheat, for example, can deliver better by margins focussing on nutrition alone. We believe the same principle can be applied to sunflowers, a crop which will deliver significant benefits to soil health and structure. Grown without chemicals, which we intend to do, makes it potentially an excellent break crop.”

The residue from the sunflower seed pressing contains a very high, easily digestible source of protein and will be fed to the farm’s livestock. Reducing the need to import protein in the form of South American Soya beans. “We can attach a value to the by-product whilst reducing our carbon footprint,” adds Nick.

Several acres of sunflowers in full bloom will give the declining bee and bird populations a much-needed boost, which is an added bonus for Nick.

“Agricultural methods employed today have certainly had a negative effect on bees and birds. As farmers, we need to take drastic action to help reverse this trend.”