What is in this article?:
- Castor beans are back in California as a possible source crop for making biofuels.
- Castor's main toxic protein, ricin, is so potent that a single milligram is sufficient to kill an adult.
- Castor oil is essential to the global specialty chemical industry because it is the only commercial source of hydroxylated fatty acids.
Australian Nic George, left, is a UC associate specialist,who is working on oilseed research with UC Davis Cooperative Extension biofuels guru Steve Kaffka, right. They are standing beside a castor trial.
However, castor oil and other processed products made from castor beans contain very little ricin or RCA.
Plant breeders have also have taken the vast majority of ricin out of newer castor varieties using biotech DNA market technology. However, it can be a problematic crop to grow and harvest, thus the precautions taken in Kaffka’s trials.
The oil produced by castor is essential to the global specialty chemical industry because it is the only commercial source of hydroxylated fatty acids. It is used by industry for a number of applications and the demand for the oil is high. About $100 million worth of castor is imported into the U.S.
Kaffka told a field day audience at the West Side Research and Extension Center at Five Points, Calif., that the oil crop is worth $3,000 to $5,000 per ton, thus the renewed interest in it as a crop with an oil market today in the U.S. and a future market for biofuel.
Castor was in production as early as the mid-1850s in the central U.S, and more than 23 crushing mills reportedly were operational at that time. Baker Castor Oil Co. began a program to develop domestic production to supply their processing plant in California. Contracts were offered to growers, and limited production developed in the Imperial and San Joaquin Valleys. Derivatives of castor oil were key ingredients in hydraulic fluids, greases, and lubricants for military equipment during World War I and World War II. During and the Korean conflict, castor production was stimulated by a government sponsored procurement program. The production area reached more than 50,000 in 1951, mainly in Texas, Oklahoma, California and Arizona. By 1959, Texas became the leading producer of castor, and production was centered near Plainview . In the late 1960s, more than 75,000 acres were grown in Texas. A small crushing facility with solvent extraction was built in Plainview in the early 1960s by the Plains Cooperative Oil Mill of Lubbock. This plant operated until castor production ceased in the early 1970s.
Texas has taken up the castor call once again, and Kaffka is following on the recent research in Texas where researchers and growers there have found castor to be drought tolerant and reportedly salt tolerant.
Kaffka has trials in the San Joaquin Valley, Salinas, Imperial Valley and at UC Davis to verify that Texas work.