Crushing Seeds & Bottling Oil in Hoxie
The huge Northern Sun/ADM crushing plant near Goodland, Kan., has been a major market for High Plains oil sunflower seed since its opening in the mid-1990s. About 70 miles to the east of Goodland, however, sits another sunflower crusher — not nearly as large or established, but nonetheless a fast-growing player on the High Plains sunflower scene.
Bainter Sunflower Oil LLC, located in Hoxie, has quickly made a name for itself as a supplier of “all-natural” sunflower oil to grocery stores and supermarkets around northwestern Kansas. On shelves in about 40 area stores as of last summer, the 48-oz bottles of Bainter Sunflower Oil were introduced to adjacent parts of Colorado and Nebraska during September/October. The oil also proved a hit at the 2009 Kansas State Fair, where it was used to fry some of the annual extravaganza’s favorite foods.
In Wes Bainter’s view, all this is just the beginning. “I see us fitting in as a supplier to some of the major food distributors in the country,” says the company’s founder and main promoter. Is that a realistic big dream or just a pipe dream? The track record of the man — whose mantra is “If it’s easy, it’s probably not worth doing” — suggests he be taken seriously.
Bainter has been making things happen for nearly four decades. His company, Bainter Construction Services, has built everything from single-family homes and apartment complexes to manufacturing facilities and ski lifts. The mechanically gifted businessman also has a number of patents to his credit, including a hydraulic grain bin jacking system and the Bainter Boom Trencher. And it was one of his more-recent innovations that actually laid the groundwork for Bainter Sunflower Oil.
In early 2007, “we decided that with the high fuel prices, we needed to design, manufacture and market a fuel system where farmers could make their own fuel,” Bainter recalls. “The premise was that a farmer could use a portion of his ground to produce an oil crop — sunflower, soybeans or canola — for his fuel needs. Then he’d be able to crush those [seeds], extract the oil and process it into fuel” for on-farm use.
The Sheridan County entrepreneur followed through by designing a screw-press extraction and filtration system that he then marketed — quite successfully, he adds — to farmers in the region. Its popularity waned, however, with the sharp financial downturn of 2008, “which also resulted in lower (petroleum) fuel prices.”
That’s when Bainter came up with the idea of developing and selling an all-natural sunflower oil for human consumption. “Over the winter of 2008/09, we went into a research/development phase to develop all the filtration equipment needed to take that sunflower oil (expelled and filtered for usage as fuel) and process it into a cooking oil,” he says. “That’s a big step. Fuel is fairly simple; but to take it to a cooking oil level was a formidable challenge.
“But we did it, and we enjoyed it. And now we have an ‘all-natural’ sunflower oil with no additives, no preservatives. The Kansas State University Food Science Institute did the testing and verified its quality, flash point, shelf life, etc. Then we test marketed the oil to people in northwestern Kansas, getting their feedback and determining that we had a very acceptable product.”
Guarded about the exact technology and process used, Bainter simply says, “To get an 18-month shelf life, like we have, you have to refine it further [than simply extracting the oil]. You have remove any impurities, get out the waxes, and so forth.”
Bainter designed the filtering equipment himself. That — and the oil bottling setup — is housed at the company’s headquarters in Hoxie. The seed crushing facility is located at a separate site west of town. Because wheat, corn and milo crops take up virtually all on-farm storage capacity in the area, he also has installed substantial seed storage capacity at that site.
Bainter contracts with area sunflower growers for mid-oleic (NuSun) seeds. As of last fall, he says he was paying about two cents above market price. “We’re not trying to buy sunflower for the absolute lowest price possible,” Bainter states. “We need to make a profit; but we also understand that the man who we buy the sunflower from needs to make a profit too. If he can’t, he’s not going to be there for us next year.
“We’re going to find markets where we can afford to pay the farmer more money — and still make a profit on our end,” he continues. “It’s not his job to figure out how we can make a profit; that’s my job. Then we’ll have a growing industry.”
While not divulging the amount of seed bought or oil sold in 2009, Bainter does say the company’s business was about 20 times that of 2008. Along with expanding the geographic reach of his sales, the Bainter oil is also being branded for the kosher market because he feels it’s an important segment that has been neglected.
“What’s really fun about this,” Wes Bainter concludes, “is that we grow the sunflower here, we process the seeds, we refine the oil, and we bottle it here.
“We’re still in our infancy, but we’re on a firm financial footing — and growing.” — Don Lilleboe
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