By MATTHEW WEAVER
Farmers in Eastern Washington have until Sept. 16 to sign up to grow the oilseed crop camelina.
The USDA Farm Service Agency and two biofuels companies are partnering to establish 11,000 acres of camelina, which will be processed into jet fuel. Land must be completely within the project area to be approved.
AltAir Fuels LLC of Seattle has 10,000 acres available encompassing every county in Eastern Washington -- except for Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima counties.
Beaver Biodiesel LLC of Albany, Ore., has 1,000 acres available in Whitman County.
Whitman County is eligible for both projects.
Sign-up began Aug. 8.
Rod Hamilton, FSA farm program chief in Spokane, said farmers would receive a rental payment higher than the Conservation Reserve Program.
The agency will take the average rental rate in the county and add 50 percent, Hamilton said. For example, in Franklin County, the payment is $56 per acre. In Adams County, payment is $64 per acre. In Garfield County, the payment is $91 per acre.
When farmers sign the contract, they commit to grow camelina for five years, Hamilton said.
Hamilton said camelina is an alternative crop to consider for rotation.
AltAir hopes to build a facility in Tacoma, he said.
"That obviously would provide a major market for (camelina)," he said.
Stephen Guy, professor and extension specialist at Washington State University, has conducted research on camelina.
He said interest in the crop would depend on how attractive the offer was from the agency and companies.
"With an unknown crop with an unknown marketing history, it's always a bit of risk," he said. "A lot of farmers are fairly risk averse."
Guy believes camelina will be a factor in the potential success of biodiesel production in the Pacific Northwest. It fits into acres in areas where other biofuel crops won't work, he said, and the meal can be used for animal feed.
"On paper, it should work," he said, noting it usually takes about three years to learn how to grow a crop well.
The agency is funding all five years of the contracts out of its current allocation for the program, which ends in September.
Before contracts can be approved, farmers must also have a production agreement with AltAir Fuels, he said.
"It's almost like you've got to apply with us and apply with them," he said.
Camelina is fairly easy to grow, Guy said. But there are no weed control options. Camelina would likely fit well on acreage without weed issues.
According to the FSA, growers should be aware of residual herbicide plant-back restrictions of camelina.
Oilseeds can be sensitive to chemicals applied to wheat and other crops. Those chemicals can remain in the ground for months after initial application.
"It's going to be very important for producers to know the herbicide history of a field before they consider planting camelina," Hamilton said.