With a deadline to apply for a federal subsidy just days away, San Joaquin Valley farmers scratched their heads and put pencil to paper to figure out if it would make sense for them to grow a biofuel crop touted to fuel military and commercial aircraft.

The answer was mixed, with some looking to sign up thousands of acres to grow camelina, a weed in the mustard family and a promising producer of oilseed, and others saying it just didn’t pencil out when compared to other more conventional and proven crops.

Nearly 200 people, many of them growers, gathered near Coalinga, Calif., to hear a pitch from the federal government, from a company that sells camelina seed and is in the camelina biofuel oil business and from consumers of the end product including the U.S. Navy and commercial airlines.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in late July, announced the creation of four additional Biomass Crop Assistance Program project areas in six states to expand the availability of non-food crops to be used in the manufacturing of liquid biofuels. The deadline to enroll for assistance with the Farm Service Agency is Sept. 16.

Seventeen California counties are eligible for the program with a target of up to 25,000 acres. The counties include Fresno, which has thousands of acres of abandoned farmland in the Westlands Water District viewed as a potentially good home for growing of the crop that requires little water and fertilizer.

But the meeting also attracted considerable interest from the east side of the Valley, notably from the Kerman area.

The day after the meeting, Ben Georgeson, a diversified Kerman grower of cotton, alfalfa, almonds and grapes, along with dairy cows, was pondering whether it just might work on some land that he was considering subdividing before the real estate bust.

“I want to make sure there is no penalty before signing a five-year contract with the government in case I decide to pull out,” Georgeson said. “I figure the only money you can make on this crop is the government payment.”

Georgeson has a 90-acre block from which he removed almonds and pumping equipment in anticipation of subdividing. It has been idle for two years, he said, “and maybe I could do something with it.”

Terry Baker, who has a cow-calf operation in Woodlake, was also pondering putting in the new crop “if cattle can graze on the residue. I’m checking into that.”

A residue byproduct of the crop can be turned into livestock feed.

Randy Rodoicich, an associate with Emerald Energy in Fresno and a grower of raisin grapes in Madera County is bullish on energy crops. He already has “two or three acres” of camelina growing among vineyard rows. He plans to plant it as well among megaflora trees grown for biomass. He sees it as a potential cover crop, “another value-added crop.”