Pilot program for biofuel-friendly oilseed crop

Dec 2, 2011

USDA has a new program to entice farmers to grow camelina, a seed crop that some researchers consider a potentially cost-effective alternative to overseas oil.

Camelina (Camelina Sativa)— also known as wild flax, German sesame, or Siberian oilseed—is an ancient oil-bearing plant that has been domesticated and extensively used in Europe for several thousand years. The seed oil of camelina contains up to 45 percent of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a unique antioxidant complex making the oil very stable and resistant to heat and rancidity.

Camelina proponents claim it is virtually 100 percent efficient and produces both food and fuel. It can be harvested and crushed for fuel and the remaining parts can be used to produce high quality omega-3 rich animal feed, fiberboard or glycerin.

Camelina has the ability to grow on marginal land, utilizing very little moisture, and thrives in both warm and cold states. Camelina is also considered a good rotational crop and studies have shown it improves the yield of subsequent crops such as wheat by up to 15 percent.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) started the first commercial-scale farm initiative to get the ball rolling on the camelina-to-fuel industry earlier this year.

USDA is hoping farmers will jump on the camelina wagon so companies will invest money in production facilities to turn camelina oil into a biodiesel, or its higher-value option, green aviation fuel, according to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA.

Speaking in August on the topic, Cantwell said the BCAP program was set up to pay eastern Washington farmers a total of up to $4.5 million in crop support over five years to grow camelina on their land. The program’s largest target growing areas are California, Washington and Montana; in those three states, farmers could receive up to $20 million over five years.

USDA is also part of several partnerships to develop oilseeds and native and perennial grasses as a biofuels, including: • In 2010, USDA partnered with the Boeing Corporation and the Air Transportation Association on an initiative to bring sustainable and renewable aviation fuels to the marketplace. • In January, USDA and the Department of the Navy signed a memorandum of understanding to encourage development and use of aviation biofuels. • In August, USDA, Navy and the Department of Energy announced a partnership to invest up to $510 million during the next three years in partnership with the private sector to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofu els to power military and commercial transportation. The initiative responds to a directive from President Obama issued in March 2011 as part of his Blueprint for A Secure Energy Future, the administration’s framework for reducing dependence on foreign oil.

Last Wednesday, USDA’s Risk Management Agency sent out a press release on a pilot program of insurance for camelina beginning with the 2012 crop year.

According to USDA’s release, camelina is an oilseed crop with the potential to create new renewable energy markets in the U.S., generate rural jobs here at home, and decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil. The new pilot program will be available in selected counties in Montana and North Dakota for the 2012 crop year, with a sales closing date of Feb. 1, 2012.

“The Obama Administration is committed to building new income opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers, and by producing biofuels from a wide range of agricultural products, we can help promote economic opportunity in rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This pilot program will help our farmers produce biomass which will be converted to renew able fuel and increase America’s energy independence, creating jobs and stimulating rural economies across the nation.”

The camelina plan of insurance is Actual Production History, which insures a grower’s yield. The pilot product for camelina was developed through the 508(h) process and submitted by Great Plains Oil and Exploration, LLC – The Camelina Company and Crop Insurance Systems, Inc.

Only spring-planted camelina grown under contract with a processor will be eligible for coverage. To be eligible, the contract must state: 1) the producer’s commitment to plant and grow camelina and to deliver the production to the processor; 2) the processor’s commitment to purchase all produc tion stated in the processor contract; and 3) a base contract price not to exceed an amount specified in the Special Provisions. A single basic unit will be offered; multiple basic units or optional units are not available.

Insurable causes of loss will include: adverse weather, fire, wildlife, earthquake, volcanic eruption, and insect and plant disease but not damage due to insufficient or improper application of pest or disease control measures.

Neither written agreements nor prevented planting will be available for camelina. Coverage levels offered will be from the catastrophic level to 65 percent. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service scientists have long-term studies underway to examine ways to use camelina as a bioenergy crop for producing jet fuel for the military and the aviation industry.

The U.S. Navy has begun using alternative fuels and would like to see camelina acreage increase. FA-18 Super Hornets from Lemoore NAS have already tested camelina-based bio-fuel. By 2020, the U.S. Navy wants 50 percent of its liquid fuel to come from alternative sources, according to Lt. Damian Blazy.

Blazy told growers gathered at a California ranch in September that the U.S Navy is committed to using alternative fuels. “By next year, we’re going to have an entire fleet certified to run on a 50-50 mixture of biofuel and traditional petroleum.”— Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor