Camelina shines as rotation crop
Oil sold for biofuel, to jet fuel refiners; meal sold for livestock feed
By JOHN SCHMITZ
For the Capital Press
RICKREALL, Ore. -- With three years of production under its belt, it appears that the oilseed crop camelina can be added to the list of rotational alternatives for wheat and grass seed growers.
Indigenous to western Russia and eastern Finland, Camelina sativa, also called false flax and gold-of-pleasure, is a flowering plant in the brassica family that has been grown for several years in Montana, said Tom Endicott, vice president of business development for Willamette Biomass Processors, Inc. in Rickreall, Ore.
Three years ago, a few Oregon growers started giving it a try.
"Grass seed growers and wheat producers in (Oregon) are always looking for broadleaf rotations on non-irrigated ground," Endicott said. He added that this is especially true east of the Cascades, where wheat is all dryland-grown.
Endicott said camelina is one of the few oilseed crops with an oil content as high as 40 percent, and that the oil is high in omega-3 fatty acid.
"The plant you normally associate omega-3 with is flax, and flax seed and meal tend to be very expensive on the West Coast because there really is no production here," he said.
Willamette Biomass has been selling camelina oil it renders to Sequential Biofuels for biodiesel production. Jet fuel refiners are also customers for the oil.
Meal left after the oil has been rendered, which is high in protein and contains nearly 10 percent oil, is sold for livestock feed.
In 2010 Willamette Biomass paid growers between 13 and 16 cents a pound for camelina seed, Endicott said. If the seed is used to produce biodiesel in Oregon, a 4.5 cent-per pound state tax credit is added.
In addition, the Farm Service Agency's Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which was suspended but is expected to be revived in 2011, would add 2.25 cents per pound.
Camelina yields in the valley during a normal year are around 2,000 pounds per acre, Endicott said, with inputs running around $50 an acre less than wheat. "So that makes it a bit of a push here in the Willamette Valley," he said.
In Central Oregon, yields are around 1,500 pounds per acre on summer fallow land.
"But there, wheat yields are quite a bit less, too," Endicott said. "So camelina is actually quite competitive with wheat in Central Oregon and Eastern Oregon, more so than the Willamette Valley."
"Camelina probably has the most potential of any of the oilseed crops I'm growing," said Wasco County, Ore. winter wheat grower John McElheran. "Camelina is more hardy (than other oilseed crops)."
McElheran said his 130-acre, dryland camelina crop yielded around 950 pounds per acre, and that what he earned pretty much equaled the other oilseed crops, "with the potential to do better."
Willamette Biomass, which also processes soybeans and canola into oil and meal components, is believed to be the only camelina processor in Oregon.
While there are proprietary varieties of camelina, Willamette Biomass provides the seed for and processes only public varieties, Endicott said.
There were close to 1,000 acres of camelina seed harvested in 2010 in Oregon, Endicott said.
Even though it's a member of the brassica family, camelina is a shirttail relative and there's no problem with it cross pollinating with vegetable seed grown in the valley, he said.