Sunflower field of dreams: Central MN business blooms

5 Sep 2019

Business, Manufacturing, Economic Development

PIERZ, Minn. — On a cloudy day, there's a bright spot in Pierz, Minn. 15 acres of sunflowers are in full bloom—one of the smaller fields connected to a central Minnesota business. 

"They've been blooming for about 10 days now so they're about halfway through now," said Tom Smude of Smude Enterprises. 

Tom and his wife, Jenni Smude, are the owners of Smude's Sunflower Oil and Smude's Natural Microwave Popcorn. 

Working with local growers, they have about 1,200 acres of sunflowers planted from Wadena to Wisconsin. 

"It was not planned at all," Tom Smude said. 

More than a decade ago, the couple's corn and soy crops experienced two years of drought. 

"You go through a couple years and everything goes backwards and it's not different than right now. It's been tough farming for everybody," Smude said. "Back in 2007, 2008 it was really dry and so we were looking for a drought-tolerant crop to grow... We were looking for a crop to grow and make a byproduct or a protein source for the feed lot. We were feeding black angus, natural cattle. Why not grow something here versus truck it all in?"

So they turned to sunflowers. They were going to sell the oil but then the price of oil dropped. 

"Here I'm sitting with low-cost oil and nowhere to go with it. So we ended up putting it in a bottle," Smude recalled. 

Quickly, Smude's Sunflower Oil took off. The seeds are cold-pressed, separating the oil from the seeds. 

"High Vitamin E and longer shelf life. And the nutritional value is a lot better in a cold-pressed oil versus a refined oil," Smude explained. "Over the last eight years we've been growing and now we're probably in over 500 locations."

Then more than a year ago, they launched Smude's Natural Microwave Popcorn... Watch the news feature here!