Crop thrives in dry areas, breaks up soil; Food-grade oil sells for $40 a gallon
By MATTHEW WEAVER
RITZVILLE, Wash. -- Curt Greenwalt presses camelina seed into "gold."
A retired high school agriculture teacher, Greenwalt and his sons are partners in Ole World Oils LLC.
Based in Ritzville, Wash., they raise the oilseed crop camelina on 15 acres of their 300-acre farm. They press it in a 576-square-foot facility, selling cooking oil under the label Camelina Gold, and meal byproducts as livestock feed.
Camelina is a mustard and a distant relative of canola. The crop breaks up disease cycles and its taproots make the soil softer and easier to work, Greenwalt said.
The Greenwalts began growing the crop in 2010, when his eldest son in Missoula, Mont., heard about camelina through a biofuel feasibility study. USDA is promoting it as a biofuel feedstock.
They established their company in May 2011.
"Where we farm, it's so dry, any crop you can raise beside wheat is kind of nice in the rotation," Greenwalt said. "There's such an upside to that crop as far as biofuel, but it's also such a nutritious product."
Greenwalt plants camelina in the winter and said yields for winter and spring crops have been comparable at Washington State University's experiment station in Lind.
A friend also raises 15 acres of camelina for the company.
They distribute the oil to 35 to 40 stores, from Port Townsend, Wash., to Missoula.
The oil is used for cooking, dipping and salad dressing. The facility is approved by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
"We make a profit on every bottle," Greenwalt said.
Greenwalt said the business has an average cost of production of about $40 per gallon of oil. That includes the price of the equipment, labels and the bottle. They produce about a gallon an hour.
Greenwalt would like to automate the system, which would allow the business to run 24 hours a day.
His sons also have plans to build the business further, he said. They plan to expand existing markets to reach the point where sampling isn't necessary. The company hires people part time to offer samples at grocery stores.
"The biggest problem is educating the people," Greenwalt said. "They're not going to walk in and buy oil unless they know something about it, because they're pretty loyal to olive oil."
Washington State University professor Bill Pan, director of the Washington State Biofuel Cropping System Program, said Greenwalt's company is a good example of oilseed production being appropriate for multiple end uses.
Pan estimated less than 1,000 acres of camelina are grown in the state, but he expects that number to grow.
"We are continuing to learn how to grow these crops more efficiently and consistently in different agroclimatic zones," Pan said. "Increasing canola prices are stimulating grower interest and we should see a continued increase in acreage planting."