Blood donors often wear a sticker on clothing that says, ‘I donated blood today.’ California farmers may soon sport a cap that boasts, ‘My farm fuels jet airplanes.’

Uncle Sam is looking for innovative farmers in California, Washington, and Montana to grow the annual oilseed crop camelina in rotation with cereal grains. Camelina oil converted to liquid biofuels is a high-quality renewable replacement for jet fuel.

Camelina sativa, also known as gold of pleasure and false flax, is a member of the mustard family and a distant relative of canola. In California, camelina is a prime candidate for marginally productive land with limited water.

Camelina is a non-food crop developed specifically for industrial uses including transportation fuels, renewable lubricants, and renewable basic chemicals. The ancient crop was used by the Romans as a massage oil.

The goal of USDA’s Camelina Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) is for California farmers to grow camelina as a winter crop on up to 25,000 acres, or about half of the camelina acreage in the three-state BCAP area (51,000 acres total).

In California, camelina contracts are available in 17 counties including Butte, Colusa, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Riverside, Sacramento, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Solano, Stanislaus, Tehama, Tulare, and Yolo.

A prime target California growing location is the Westlands Water District in western Fresno County where more than 100,000 acres of once irrigated land have been idled due to reductions in water deliveries and salt buildup issues. The water-miser camelina plant produces a crop with 6 inches of water.

The tri-state camelina project is part of the USDA Region 8 BCAP initiative unveiled by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in late July.

The overall national BCAP, created by the 2008 farm bill, helps farmers and land owners cover the start up costs of planting non-food energy crops to produce advanced biofuels, bio-based products, power, and heat.

BCAP is administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). Farmers interested in camelina production will sign two contracts – one between FSA and the grower to gain financial reimbursement. Farmers with FSA camelina contracts are eligible for rental payments based on the farm’s weighted soil rental rate plus an additional incentive of 50 percent per acre.

The FSA-grower contract sign-up period began Aug. 8 and ends Sept. 16, 2011. FSA-BCAP information is available online at www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap

The BCAP project announcement comes one year after a joint announcement from USDA, Boeing Corporation, and the Air Transportation Association to bring sustainable and renewable fuels to market.