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Nebraska business has national reach

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 10:59 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 25, 2021 at 11:04 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A fourth generation farmer has developed a business in central Nebraska by raising sunflowers, and selling sunflower oil around the country.

Alan Koelling is the owner of Simply Sunflower. He initially planted sunflowers on his farm to rotate with other crops. “It was just to build soil and take care of the soil, because that’s what takes care of us,” Koelling said.

Eventually, the Koelling family started making bio-diesel out of the oil from the seeds of the sunflowers. Then, it was discovered the oil had great health benefits. Now, Alan Koelling is turning the seeds into cooking oil. “There’s two kinds of seeds, there’s confectionery sunflowers, and small black oil seeds,” Koelling said. “Confectionery seeds are the ones you eat at baseball games, and then spit the hulls. Small black oil seeds have a high oil content, and they are about a third of the size.”

Those seeds are the ones Koelling uses to make Simply Sunflower oil. When the seeds are harvested, they are brought to a production facility in North Loup. “The first thing we do is we put the seeds in overhead hoppers,” Koelling said. “That automatically gravity feeds to the expellers.” The expeller removes oil from the seed. “Then it sends the meal to a conveyor which is taken out of the building,” Koelling said. “We use the meal for cattle feed or hog feed.” The oil then goes through a press and filter system. Finally, the oil is transferred to a room where it’s bottled and packaged.

Marketing director Sierra Forrest is proud this is a family business. “I didn’t imagine that I’d be working with my dad when I went to college, but I really do enjoy it,” Forrest said. “The farm was purchased with the Homestead Act of 1865, so it has a rich history, and it’s neat that our product is a piece of that.” Forrest says the oil they make is a healthy product. “We have 41% vitamin E which is unheard of for sunflower oil. Sunflower oil is naturally high in vitamin E, but Simply Sunflower oil has higher vitamin E than than other competitors we come across in the market.”

What is the oil used for? “If you are sautéing vegetables, if you are making chicken fajitas, that’s one of my all-time favorites,” Forrest said. “You can fry fish, you can do all sorts of things, even use it as a light salad dressing. And popcorn. Nebraska is the popcorn capital of the world, so it’s great to use for popcorn, too. We are in nearly every grocery store in Nebraska, but we are expanding a lot in Texas and also in California.”

For those producing the product, all of this is a labor of love. “The Koelling family enjoys farming and ranching first and foremost,” Alan Koelling said. “But we have other interests in mind, too. I’m excited about this, because it gives people a healthy alternative. We are able to offer that, and that really is satisfying.”

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