What is in this article?:
- California growers putting pencil balance sheet to see if camelina will compete with other crops.
- “This is not a miracle crop,” said Scott Johnson, president of Sustainable Oils. But managed properly, he said, it can work to meet demand that is growing because of green initiatives from the federal and state government.
“They will have a hard time finding 25,000 acres; the numbers don’t work,” he said, citing costs of input and competition of other crops that include Pima cotton selling at $2 a pound and $300 per ton winter wheat, a fall seeded crop that can require only supplemental water if normal to heavy winter rains fall. For the past two seasons, several growers have rented abandoned Westlands land and successfully grown winter wheat on only rain moisture.
Sustainable Oils points out the crop can be grown with 8 to 10 inches of precipitation and 100 units of nitrogen. In California, the crop is seeded in November or December and harvested in April. Limited small plot trials in the state have produced yields from 800 to 2,200 pounds per acre.
The federal subsidy amount ranges from $46.50 to $134.80 per acre depending on Soil Rental Rates, said Steve Sandroni, production and logistics manager for Sustainable Oils. He said the figure for Fresno, Kern and Kings Counties is about $90.
Sandroni said he has been pleased to learn of considerable interest well outside of the Westlands Water District, including in the Sacramento area. Growers elsewhere are also looking into camelina as part of a rotation with other crops in counties that include San Luis Obispo, Tulare, Merced and Madera.
Most planted commercial acreage is now in Montana where it is grown as a spring planted crop. In California, it is recommended as a winter crop.
Steve Kaffka, a University of California researcher, conceded that studies of camelina are just about two years under way in California and only small plots have been planted by UC at sites that include Davis and at the West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points.
“We don’t fully understand the behavior of this crop,” he said, while adding that it does require less water and fertilizer than many other crops.
Two crops have been harvested from the experimental sites, and there was some variability in yields. The second crop was lighter, and Kaffka speculated that might have been because of chilling in February when plants were “at a vulnerable stage.”
Kaffka said crusting of soil and plant emergence was an issue in some plots, but in the Valley’s Panoche soil it was less of a problem.
Other challenges include shattering of seed pods during harvest and lack of an herbicide registered for use in California on camelina. A key seems to be determining the best time to harvest the crop to avoid shattering.
Fernando Guillen-Portal, director of research and development for Sustainable Oils, said the company is working “to get registration for the tools you need for weed control.” The company also is working on varieties best suited for variable climates that range from Canada to Yuma, Ariz.
“It is widely adaptable,” he said.
Guillen-Portal recommended valley growers plant during October or November at 6 to 8 pounds per acre. “Plant early so it can out-compete seasonal weeds,” he said.