ONTARIO, Ore. — Camelina field trials at the Oregon State University experiment station here have shown the oil seed crop could be a source of income for the region’s farmers in drought years when irrigation water is sparse.
Camelina, which is a source of animal protein supplements, cooking oil and biofuel, can be planted in the fall or very early spring.
Camelina that was harvested at the research station in late June and early July this year yielded 1,590 pounds of seed per acre despite receiving no irrigation water.
The area only received 5.69 inches of precipitation from when the crop was planted Nov. 27 through harvest.
“It produced more than we expected given the fact we received less than 6 inches of precipitation,” said OSU researcher Clint Shock, director of the university’s Malheur County experiment station.
This year’s results were similar to those in 2013 during the trial’s first year.
Camelina wouldn’t be a high-value crop in this area but it could provide farmers some income to offset their fixed expenses during years when water is scare, Shock said.
This year’s yield average means the crop would have been worth around $300 per acre, he added. That compares to $4,800 per acre for an average onion crop.
“It’s not a high-return crop but at least something could be produced off the land with very little water,” he said.
Nyssa area farmer Paul Skeen said the camelina trial is intriguing, especially in a year like 2014 when water is tight. A lot of ground in the area was left fallow this year in anticipation of a short water season.
But farmers in this area have a lot of expenses tied up in irrigated land and in years when there is very little or no irrigation water, camelina might help them recoup some of those expenses.
“You’ve got costs in your ground whether you farm it or not,” he said. “You’re at least getting enough back to maybe pay your rent or taxes. At least you’re cutting some of your losses.”
Skeen estimates the 2014 trial crop would have covered costs.
“Instead of leaving all that ground idle, if you could plant something like that and make some money off of it, it’s still better than zero,” he said.
If growers in this area do warm to camelina, they would have a willing buyer in Willamette Biomass Processors, which is located near Salem.
Tomas Endicott, vice president of development for WBP, said his company purchases camelina from Montana and would certainly be willing to purchase it from Eastern Oregon.
WBP crushes camelina into oil and sells the high-protein meal as livestock feed to the beef and poultry industries.
Endicott said camelina needs only 3-4 inches of precipitation to make a decent crop and would top out at about 2,500 pounds per acre with 8-10 inches.
“It’s very, very drought tolerant,” he said. “The drought tolerance means it’s better suited for somewhere like Eastern Oregon.”