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Growers experiment with expanding oilseed acreage

Previous herbicide applications disrupt some planting

Capital Press

LIND, Wash. -- Researchers at Washington State University are looking for ways to meet the growing demand for oilseed crops.

Research on biofuel cropping throughout Washington is several years old, crop and soil scientist Bill Pan said. Researchers are exploring the genetics, agronomy and economics of the crops. The focus is on canola with affiliated projects on camelina, safflower and cellulosic crops.

The Washington State Legislature is looking to promote state-grown biofuels for the state ferry system and jet airliners.

Overall, "the demand for fuel is virtually unsaturable," Pan said. "If we can get a piece of that, I think it will help diversify our cropping system, open up some markets and hopefully be economically and environmentally beneficial for everyone."

The statewide program is looking at production opportunities in Western Washington, in irrigated Central Washington, the summer fallow region in the Lind area and the annual cropping zone on the eastern border of the state. Cropping system and variety trials are underway in those locations, Pan said.

Oilseed crops cannot be grown like cereal crops, Pan said. Growing them in summer fallow is particularly challenging because the biology of the crops is so different, he said.

Stand establishment and instability, particularly in winter canola, has been a challenge. Researchers are backing up planting dates to June, July or August.

Another issue is plant-back restrictions of herbicides for cereal production, which limit the ability to immediately plant oilseeds.

"We're really going to have to rethink our whole chemical rotation if we're going to get into this in a big way," Pan said.

He estimated about 15,000 acres of oilseeds are grown in Washington. Mandates for ground transportation and the airline industry may require 500,000 to 1 million acres, he said. That may involve using acres reentering production out of the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program, he said.

Dryland Research Station Director Bill Schillinger presented camelina variety trials conducted at the Lind station. Trials of 18 varieties are ongoing in other locations throughout the Northwest, in varying precipitation levels.

"There were no significant differences at all in the varieties," Schillinger said. "It was essentially the same story whether we planted it in the fall or in the spring."

The planting method and planting date research project was originally intended to last three years, but Schillinger said it will continue.

"We don't have the answers yet," he said. "They're all sort of the same, so far."

Schillinger said he would like to see a Roundup Ready camelina developed to help combat Russian thistle, which is the biggest problem in Lind.

Pan and Schillinger delivered their presentation during the Lind Field Day at the research station June 17.




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