BURLEY, Idaho – Alternative crops tend to grab headlines when commodity prices are low and producers are interested in finding crops with a better profit margin. It’s a harder sell when grain prices are near historic highs, but one alternative crop is gaining attention thanks to it’s adaptation for dryland production.
Camelina probably isn’t dominating the conversation at coffee shops, but researchers are starting to give this oilseed a closer look.
Juliet Windes, University of Idaho Extension crop management specialist at Idaho Falls, said she’s been impressed with what she’s seen.
“I think it could be competitive in areas with cold temperatures and a short growing season,” she told grain growers during the annual UI cereal school in Burley this winter.
An area like Soda Springs, where growers have been locked into continuous grain rotations for up to 20 years, comes to mind. Pivot corners may be another good option.
Montana planted about 50,000 acres of camelina last year. Oregon could provide a market for biodiesel made from camelina. The Portland City Council began requiring a 5 percent biodiesel blend for all diesel fuel sold within city limits starting in July 2007. That rises to a 10 percent blend in July 2010.
The state of Oregon has also enacted a Renewable Fuels Initiative that mandates the use of biofuels.
Tim Parker, president of Willamette Biomass Processors, Inc., also spoke at cereal school. Rather than making biofuels, his Salem, Ore.-based company is focusing on providing a place for farmers to bring oilseeds that can be crushed and then sold to a biodiesel plant.
While growers would like to be paid 25 cents a pound to raise camelina, they won’t pay $8 per gallon for biodiesel.
“We’ve got to find something that’s profitable for you, the grower, but still profitable for the processor,” he said.
That’s one reason he’s excited about camelina. The oilseed can grow in regions that receive as little as 6 to 8 inches of annual precipitation and still yield 1,100 to 1,200 pounds per acre. Researchers at the UI Parma Research and Extension Center got 1,950 pounds per acre off some irrigated plots, showing that the crop may also fit some irrigated situations.
Parker estimated growers would pay about $1.60 per bushel to grow camelina.
Fertilizer requirements are minimal, and seed was running $1 per pound plus freight. Seeding rate is 5 lbs. per acre. At the end of January, the market was supporting a price of about $5 per bushel
Because camelina germinates at 38 degrees, it is a very-early-season crop. Parker said growers can lose up to 100 lbs. of yield by planting after March 15.
Windes thinks camelina could be broadcast on frozen ground or sown with minimum surface incorporation.
“You could seed early on frozen ground and let it take advantage of the early-season moisture,” she said.