Hannibal startup shines during sunflower oil shortage

  • Published: Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022

HANNIBAL, Mo. – A northeastern Missouri farm is making sunflower oil amid a global shortage linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Family-owned and operated, Show Me HH Farms, of Hannibal, offers cold-pressed sunflower seed oil, a primary cooking oil in many parts of the world. Sunflower oil’s light yellow color, mild flavor and ability to withstand high cooking temperatures make it a favorite of cooks.

Before the war, Ukraine and Russia supplied as much as 75% of the world’s supply of sunflower oil, according to William Meyers, emeritus professor of agriculture and applied economics at the University of Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.

Show Me HH owners Kent and Kathy Brown and their son and daughter-in-law, Phillip and Amberlyn, sell the oil at farmers markets, at their farm and at retail outlets. Their sunflower fields, open to the public when sunflowers are in full bloom, provide a striking backdrop for photos.

The Browns began their small-batch operation in 2021 after consulting on food safety and equipment needs with MU Extension specialist James Meyer and the Ralls County Health Department. Meyer also told the Browns about Missouri Grown USA (www.MissouriGrownUSA.com), a Missouri Department of Agriculture program that supports Missouri agricultural products.

The response has been good, the Browns say. Customers like the oil’s mild, nutty flavor, says Amberlyn, especially in salad dressings and when sauteing. “When used at high temperatures, there is no distinguishable flavor, and that appeals to customers as well,” she says.

The Browns grow high-oleic sunflowers on 20 acres of their farm, which is otherwise dedicated primarily to traditional row crops. They harvest the sunflower heads using a combine with a special header. After harvest, in late October or early November, they clean and crush dried sunflower seeds. Seeds go into a press that squeezes out the oil. The Browns sell the separated waste for cattle feed.

The process is slow – about 10 hours for a 30-gallon drum of oil. The oil is black when first extracted and bottled. They rack it like wine to allow the dark parts to settle and clear.

A sunflower head is not a single flower but consists of many small ray flowers. The massive sunflower heads may contain up to 2,000 seeds. The oil content of the seeds is high – more than 40%.

High temperatures and dry weather made for plenty of sunshine at the farm this year, when the Browns nearly tripled their production of sunflowers on the same amount of acreage.

The sunflower is a native plant in Missouri. It was grown more than 1,000 years ago by the Cahokia mound builders in what is now the St. Louis area, says Rob Myers, adjunct associate professor and director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at MU. Myers says the first known commercial processing of sunflowers in the U.S. was in Missouri in 1926, when growers worked with the MU Engineering Experiment Station and the MU Department of Chemistry to process sunflower oilseed.

In Missouri, sunflowers can be planted from early April to July. The crop grows in a wide range of soils and tolerates drought.

The MU Extension publication “Sunflowers: A Versatile Native Crop” is available for free download at extension.missouri.edu/g4701.


With their massive seed heads turned to the sun, sunflowers grown in northeastern Missouri are used to make sunflower seed oil, a highly sought-after cooking oil that is in short supply worldwide. Photo courtesy of Amberlyn Brown.

Show Me HH Farms of Hannibal is family-owned and operated. In addition to corn and soybean, the family grows sunflowers for sunflower seed oil production. Photo courtesy of Amberlyn Brown.

Show Me HH Farms of Hannibal offers cold-pressed sunflower seed oil, a primary cooking oil in many parts of the world. Photo courtesy of Amberlyn Brown.

The sunflower head comprises many small, tuberous flowers. The head contains as many as 2,000 oil-rich seeds. Photo courtesy of Amberlyn Brown.

Writer: Linda Geist

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