Family Brings Growing Sunflower Oil Industry to Central Nebraska
Alan and Jeanette Koelling with a bottle of Simply Sunflower oil.
(re-printed from the Sun., March 30 edition of The Grand Island Independent)
In 2006, fourth-generation Valley County farmer Alan Koelling was looking into alternative biodiesel options. An introduction to sunflowers as a fuel alternative and rotational crop, and education of their nutritional value and uses, led to the development of a rapidly growing new business.
Today, Simply Sunflower oil is blooming on shelves all across the state. Koelling said he learned that by introducing wheat and sunflowers into the traditional crop rotation of corn and soybeans, his operation could lower the cost of its herbicide program and fully eliminate the need for insecticides. With the expenses of today's agricultural climate, those two options alone make such an idea an attractive one worth looking into.
The sunflower plant, in particular, has an added benefit deep below the soil's surface.
"The sunflower has an eight-foot taproot, which is a natural organic chisel," Koelling explained. "It improves soil quality and texture. So as a rotational plant, it is a no-brainer."
The value of the sunflowers lies within their seeds. The seeds are 40 to 50 percent oil, and the demand for that oil has grown because its benefits to human health have been increasingly documented. The oil from sunflowers contains more natural Vitamin E than other vegetable oils, and has the lowest saturated fat content of all commonly-used cooking oils. It is also contains high levels of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, which reduces bad cholesterol and promotes brain function and body development respectively.
"It's high in Omega-6 and Omega-9 amino acids, which means it's very friendly to heart-conscious and cholesterol-conscious eaters," Koelling said. "It's 41 percent Vitamin E and is a natural preservative, so the shelf life is amazing without adding anything to it. It's all natural. Most other oils add Vitamin E or a chemical as a preservative."
For cooking, he said sunflower oil is light with a nutty flavor. Also, its smoking temperature is 450 degrees, which is the highest of all cooking oils. Koelling's interest in sunflowers began as a potential oil source in biodiesel to reduce overhead expenses on the farm. He looked into using sunflower oil as a diesel additive or substitute.
As he researched the plant as a fuel, however, he learned that pure sunflower oil is more valuable per gallon as a cooking oil than diesel itself is as a fuel. In 2010 he began drafting a new business plan that would eventually become Simply Sunflower.
"That was a big step for us because we're producers," Alan Koelling said of his family operation. "I'm a farmer and rancher at heart and always will be. This bottle took a lot of work."
The full story is in the April 9 edition of the Ord Quiz.