Camelina, Montana's wonder crop?

 

Has camelina's time arrived? A new study -- funded by the camelina industry and conducted with jet fuel from seeds developed by a Bozeman company called Sustainable Oils -- says fuel made with the oilseed camelina could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 84 percent compared with fuel made from petroleum.

Just last September, the FDA granted permission to include two percent camelina meal -- a byproduct of producing the fuel -- in the mix given to feedlot beef cattle and swine. The meal has protein levels of 40 percent or more, and is also high in Omega-3 fatty acids. 

Camelina is well suited to Montana and other arid states because it can withstand cold temperatures and it needs very little water. In 2007, more than 20,000 acres of the crop was cultivated in the state -- but that number fell by almost half in 2008, probably because farmers could get more money from growing wheat, which hit record highs.

But camelina proponents -- including Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has called camelina his "new girlfriend" -- haven't given up. Among its other attributes, camelina costs $45 to $68 per acre to produce -- between a third and a fourth the cost of growing canola, another oilseed crop. Camelina is higher in oil content than canola or soybeans, and is also high in gamma tocopherol, a vitamin E that acts as an antioxidant. The plant appears to adapt to different climates and soil types, and it can be used as fallow, used in rotation with a crop like spring wheat.

The Agricultural Marketing Policy Center at Montana University estimates that it would take up to 2.5 million acres of camelina to provide enough feedstocks for a 100-million gallon biodiesel production facility. Montana farmers would have to shift up to one-fourth of their total planted acres into camelina production for this to happen. Currently there's no federal crop insurance for camelina -- something that would likely have to be in place for this shift to take place.

Camelina sativa, a species of camelina, was probably grown in Europe for at least 3,000 years. Also called gold-of-pleasure, the seed was ground and used as cooking oil, which has an almond-like flavor and aroma.

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