Camelina's Potential in the High Plains

Camelina's Potential in the High Plains

Camelina's Potential in the High Plains

When Dr. Bret Hess, University of Wyoming, and his partners began their research looking at camelina as an alternative seed crop for biofuels and as feedstock, producers were suffering from high fuel prices. As producers sought alternatives, biodiesel sales increased from 25 million gallons to nearly 75 million gallons from 2004 to 2005. Currently, fuel prices have become more affordable. Yet, the results from Hess’ project will give producers the information and tools they will need to make decisions around adding camelina to their operation when fuel prices do rise again.

Hess began his Western SARE-funded project, Evaluation of Camelina Sativa as an Alternative Seed Crop and Feedstock for Biofuel and Developing Replacement Heifers (SW07-049), in response to an increased number of producers desiring personal energy independence and cleaner energy, and therefore considering oilseed crops as a both a source of biodiesel and feed. Camelina has potential as a biofuel crop for High Plains' producers with its relatively high oil content and possible adaptability to the region’s semi-arid growing conditions.  The biofuel industry has a limited supply and will need to be ramped up in order to meet increased demand.  In addition, a biodiesel facility producing 1 million gallons of fuel per year is expected to generate 7,000 ton of meal and 100 tons of crude glycerin, creating a need to market these co-products. Hess believed that the beef cattle feeding industry is a reasonable marketplace for camelina meal and crude glycerin because the meal is a good source of protein, and the main compound in crude glycerin (glycerol) has an energy value similar to starch. 

For this project, Hess and his colleagues evaluated:

  • Field production of camelina in Montana and Wyoming,
  • Camelina oil for production of biodiesel,
  • Camelina co-products in diets of developing replacement beef heifers,
  • The ecological impact and economic potential of replacing camelina for fallow, utilizing camelina as a feedstock for biodiesel and including camelina co-products in diets of developing replacement beef heifers.

This was accomplished through field trials, crop rotation studies, tests of  camelina oil extracted from seeds grown in Wyoming and then used in equipment, a two-year randomized complete block study to evaluate the use of camelina co-products in diets of developing replacement beef heifers, a systems approach to try to understand how a biodiesel production scheme would fit into a dryland wheat farm using budget software, and an additional economical analysis using prices actually paid for supplemental ingredients in the beef heifer feeding experiment.

Hess found that camelina co-products were suitable replacements for conventional corn-soybean meal supplements for developing replacement beef heifers. Results compiled by project agronomists demonstrated that camelina is a marginal dryland crop for eastern Wyoming, both in terms of yield and economic feasibility. In contrast, the Montana location appeared to be a more suitable place to grow camelina because dryland yields were great enough to make growing the crop economically feasible. The co-products should be economically feasible supplemental ingredients for replacement heifers.

With the reduction in fuel prices, Hess and colleague Tom Foulke found that the economic arguments were not compelling – at this time.  They predict a break-even point in the alternative system when petroleum diesel reaches approximately $5.92 per gallon. Should the price of petroleum diesel increase significantly, it is reasonable to expect that the cost of other inputs, especially fertilizer would increase as well, making profitability for this system a moving target.

Economic challenges include the small size of the press and the high amount of labor and time needed to run the press. In addition, farm bankers have stated that they would have challenges in financing such a press under traditional means, so sufficient funds need to be on hand to purchase the press. A possible solution is to achieve economies of scale through group ownership.

In addition to demonstrating where camelina can be grown feasibly and that it is an appropriate alternative feed, the results have paved the way for a future with higher fuel costs. Producers have become more aware of the possibilities with growing camelina. And preliminary results of the feeding trial have been shared with FDA and a coalition of businesses that seek to have crude glycerin and camelina meal approved as feed ingredients for livestock. The FDA has now approved up to 10% camelina in the ration of ruminant livestock rations. It is therefore anticipated that feeding of camelina co-products will increase in areas where crop yields are sufficient to make camelina economically viable for producers.

Review a project poster here

Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) SW07-049, Evaluation of Camelina Sativa as an Alternative Seed Crop and Feedstock for Biofuel and Developing Replacement Heifers .

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Location: Montana | West | Wyoming