Considering the dismal profit outlook for most Southeastern row crops, there might be potential for adding a winter crop like carinata, a promising oilseed, according to University of Florida researchers.
“If you look at non-irrigated crop budgets from the University of Georgia, there isn’t much money that can be made with any of our traditional row crops this year. The numbers are a little better for irrigated crops, but there still isn’t much there,” said David Wright, University of Florida Extension agronomist speaking at the recent SunGrant Conference held at Auburn University.
Brassica carinata or carinata, explains Wright, has great potential for profitable cultivation in the
Southeast. Commonly called “Ethiopian mustard,” it is native to the Ethiopian highlands.
“Carinata is a member of the mustard family and has a high glucosinolate content,” says Wright. It is agronomically superior to other oilseed crops with its high oil content – more than 40 percent – larger seed size, and lower lodging and shattering rates. It’s also heat and drought tolerant and can withstand weather extremes,” says Wright.
And the fact that it prefers cooler temperatures – such as those in Canada – makes it well suited as a winter crop for Southeastern producers, says Wright.
Carinata’s high oil content and favorable fatty acid profile make it especially suitable for the biofuel industry, especially as a biojet fuel, he says. The research in Florida is being done in conjunction with Agrisoma Biosciences Inc., a crop company that has the world’s largest collection of carinata germplasm.
Carinata has been grown commercially for several years on the Canadian prairie as a summer crop and more recently in the U.S. northern plains.
“For the past three years, we have evaluated various strategies that allow incorporation of carinata into prevalent cropping systems with minimal modification to existing infrastructure. In the fall of 2014, about 3,000 acres were contracted among 25 farmers.”
Applied Research Associates (ARA) approached the University of Florida this past August and said they had a U.S. Navy contract that required 200,000 gallons of biofuels, says Wright.
“It was late in the year, and farmers were busy picking cotton and peanuts, but we made a production guide based on what we now know. We had a lot more growers who were interested but couldn’t do it at the time. It grows very well in sandy soils. Participating growers received contracts from Patterson Grains for $8 per bushel. There’s no dockage because it’s not an edible oil.”
Seed is delivered to two places – Columbia Grain in Live Oak and Jackson Terminal near Marianna, Fla., and harvest is anticipated in late May, says Wright. It’ll be transported to Texas by rail.
“We really think adding a winter crop such as carinata has potential for Southeastern producers. The company we’re working with out of Canada is growing it as a summer crop while we’re growing it as a winter crop. It has been grown up there in 16 to 18-hour daylight. We’re growing it down here in eight to 10 hours a day during the winter.”
From field to fuel
ARA developed a catalytic process where only water is used to transform the plant oil into petroleum-like crude oil in less than a minute, he says. Normal crude oil can takes about 30 minutes to transform.
“The first-ever 100-percent biofuels flight with carninata was accomplished in the fall of 2012. They found a 50-percent reduction in aerosol emissions and black carbon and a 1.5 percent reduction in specific fuel flow, or more thrust per gallon than with the petroleum counterpart.”
Researchers in Florida worked with canola for years, according to Wright, but could never achieve the desired yields.
“The oil content from carinata is very similar to canola. We’ve had it up to 45-percent oil content. You can make more jet fuel out of carinata, and what comes from the process is about one-third jet fuel, one-third diesel and one-third gas. Right now, jet fuel prices are higher than diesel or gasoline, making it more valuable.”
Wright’s initial goal was to produce 200 gallons of fuel per acre, amounting to about 3,500 pounds of seed.
“We wanted to be able to plant in early November after cotton, peanuts or soybeans came out and harvest in early May before we would plant cotton, peanuts or soybeans.”
The U.S. Navy, says Wright, has a mandate to produce 8 million barrels of oil by 2020 to use in its fleet. At one time, the Navy was on a 100-percent renewable platform, and they want to work back to that.
“We think we can use it on our winter fallow land, and with the rainfall we’ve been getting, it’s a good way to keep our land covered. Also, we think we can no-till this into dormant pastures, especially down here in the Coastal Plain region and in the drier regions of our country – maybe even a little further west where wheat traditionally would be grown.”
Researchers are looking at all production practices with carinata, including fertility, rotations, planting dates, variety selection, and diseases, says Wright.
“They are small seedlings when they come up. Five to six pounds of seed per acre appears to be adequate. We also looked at row spacing. They do a lot of 12 to 14-inch rows in Canada. With 14-inch rows, we made about 120 bushels per acre, which would be major cash crop for us if we could get anywhere near 4,000 to 5,000 pounds per acre.
“We had an early freeze and had almost 80 percent damage in October and December plantings, and yields reflected that. We had over 3,000-pound yields from November plantings. We were able to get more than 200 gallons of oil per acre from this.”
In rotations, growers need to be careful about residual herbicides that were applied previously, says Wright. “We grow a lot of peanuts in the Deep South, and we have Cardre, which has an 18-month restriction, so pay attention to those restrictions.”
Fertility calls for 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre applied at planting followed by 60 pounds in late January to early February. Growers should scout for insects and diseases and apply treatments as needed. Carinata should be harvested at 8 to 10-percent moisture, says Wright.
“We have quite a few diseases, but they are not so severe. We applied a fungicide in March. We prefer early maturing varieties so we can double-crop.”
A yield of around 1,500 pounds per acre from carinata should be break-even with much higher potential, says Wright.