Weston Sunflowers banner image

What’s the story behind the sunflowers?

Those travelling Section 8 of the A2O in January and February this year have been treated to a special view as they descend toward Weston – a rippling field of giant golden sunflowers. What a treat for the weary traveller after four or five days in the saddle! (and a popular spot for a selfie…) So what’s the story behind the sunflowers?

They are grown by Topflite, an Ōamaru-based pet food producer who craft locally grown ingredients into premium natural feed products. They’ve farmed near Weston since the 1960s, and the sunflower crop has become somewhat of an icon in the area.

What are the sunflowers grown for?

Originally, Topflite planned to grow sunflowers to crush for oil but then quickly moved to growing them for the bird clubs in 1974. That’s because in those days, seeds for bird feed were all imported and as a result, heat treated to stop germination (for biosecurity reasons). However that process strips the nutrients out of the seed, particularly essential vitamins for good bird health like Vitamin A and E.

Hand of sunflowers - Weston

Bird keepers were keen-as to get their hands on seed that offered proper nourishment to their birds! Today the seeds are still popular with bird breeders and Topflite grows a huge range of other crops for specialty hay and feed mixes. The sunflower seeds are used in a range of nourishing feed products for wild birds and chickens.

Nurturing nature’s good work

Back in the 1970s, people said sunflowers would never grow this far south. Well, it turns out they do! That’s because the sunflower fields benefit from a nicely balanced micro-climate. They’re tucked away from the coastal storms and get reasonably long, hot summers in this part of the country. The soil is wonderfully rich in minerals too which is another reason why the sunflowers grow so abundantly here.

Dramatic Sunflower Shot 2007

When is the best time to see the Topflite sunflowers?

The first flower usually appears by New Year’s Day and by late January the flowers are in full bloom and at their most intense yellow. That’s the time of year to schedule your sunflower selfie!

Where can I see the sunflowers?

This year the sunflowers were planted on Ngapara-Weston Rd, on Section 8 of the trail. They are a popular attraction for those in the know and Topflite gets lots of inquiries each summer about viewing them. While they encourage appreciation from a distance – and a good selfie of course! – unfortunately people can’t go into the fields for a full-scale frolic. That’s because the hygiene and quality of the crops is paramount, and there’s also a safety risk with the farm equipment.

Sunflowers January 2020 - Weston

Do sunflowers really follow the sun?

Fun fact: not quite. People think they do but it’s not entirely true. Imagine someone planting their feet in one spot on the ground and stretching both their hands up in the direction of the sun. The hand nearer to the sun will be higher than the other, and then it switches depending on where the sun is. It’s actually the result of one side of the stem elongating, followed by the other. This is how they absorb as much sunlight as possible.

As visitors will quickly learn, the Waitaki is a hub for top-quality artisanal food and wine products. It’s nice to know that New Zealand’s pets get to share in the goodness too!