Camelina Plants Could Prove Profitable

Jul 14, 2008 | Posted in What's New

Adapted from the Erie Times News - June 9, 2008

Mark Troyer thinks his 10-acre patch of camelina looks like a bunch of weeds. But he and some other local farmers are hoping that looks are deceiving and that camelina makes good on its promise as the next big thing for the biofuel industry. The plant, which grows up to 3 feet tall, produces greenish-yellow flowers and a small seedpod. More important, when those seeds are crushed, they yield about 40 percent oil, twice as much as soybeans. Better yet, it's a crop with a guaranteed buyer.
Joel Hunter, an agronomist with Crawford County Cooperative Extension, said he was approached more than a year ago by officials from Lake Erie Biofuels, which has promised to buy all the camelina that local farmers can grow. The company, which is currently using canola and soybean oil as well as waste grease, confirmed that it's prepared to buy the camelina oil. No price has been set yet, however. Mike Noble, operations manager at Lake Erie Biofuels, said he's pleased by the interest shown by local farmers, some of whom had to be turned away from the popular pilot program. About a dozen area farmers, organized and encouraged by Crawford County Cooperative Extension, have already placed their wagers. Together, they've planted about 300 acres of camelina in Erie, Crawford and Mercer counties.
Hunter doesn't see the search for alternative fuels as something that should wait. That's why the Extension Service bought 1,000 pounds of camelina seed for farmers to grow and promoted the idea with local farmers through a series of winter meetings. Troyer, president of Troyer Farms in Waterford, isn't ready to get out of the potato business, but he has planted 10 acres of camelina.

"We are in the farming business, and I believe we need to maximize our income off each acre," he said. "A lot of times, that includes looking at alternatives. What worked 20 years ago might not work in 2010." Like soybeans, corn and other crops now being used to produce fuel, camelina has more than one use. That could ultimately push camelina prices out of reach for biofuel producers. For now, local farmers are getting their feet wet.

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