Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Camelina News in Montana

What makes this a wonder crop?

Camelina can grow on less productive soil, no irrigation, no fertilizers or pests, and it has a great deal of high value potential (or that's how it looks today). In particular the fact that the oil contains Omega 3 fatty acids means a great deal of feed and human food potential. There is also a predeveloped, yet small market for European camelina for use in cosmetics.

It also can be harvested with pretty much the same equipment as wheat (meaning most farmers in the Northwest already have what they need to grow and harvest it in rotation without a large investment). Additionally it has low tillage needs. From what I've been told this crop is planted in the winter while there is still snow on the ground. Farmers broadcast it over the fields and when the snow breaks up it plants itself and starts growing.

There is a great story by the Prairie Star, an Ag paper in Montana, covering the potential for this crop both as a food grade crop and a biofuel crop. The article talks numbers below:

With an average yield of 1,200 pounds per acre at 10 cents per pound, a grower could make $120 per acre when sold into the bio-diesel market. “It can't compete with $7 wheat, but as a rotation crop, it's worth something,” said Pilgeram.

All in all camelina is probably a great displacement for soy and canola oil. A higher value lower production oil crop. One thing the food versus fuel arguments usually miss is that higher ag prices usually mean more substitute crops enter the fray. We will see more diversity and choice as the higher prices allow more crops to compete.
I would suspect to see this be the path for all food products. As oil prices push up biofuel prices, food growers will start diversifying. Less productive land will be able to throw off enough cash flow to justify crops like camelina at the new higher prices for ag goods. Especially if the product has a superior food grade quality.

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