The mustard crop can be used as a jet fuel source, protein meal and rotational crop option
Carinata is pushing for a spot on the U.S. crop roster as an oilseed capable of producing an alternative to petroleum-based biofuel. The semi-arid mustard plant needs only 10" to 15" of rain per year, and it might be an ideal rotational fit in the northern Great Plains states because of its warm, dry growing seasons.
Agrisoma Biosciences has been producing carinata in Canada and is interested in growing the crop in the northern tier of the U.S. “Carinata tolerates heat and needs little moisture. It does require nitrogen fertilizer but is otherwise robust,” says William Gibbons, director of South Dakota Oilseed Initiative. We’ve seen yields from 1,500 to 2,000 lb. per acre on dryland.”
As a bio-jet fuel source, the U.S. military is interested in carinata in its quest to use domestic renewable energy sources. Carinata produces a long-chain oil (22 carbon oil), ideal for biofuel production, which is cleaved to create two 11-carbon fuel molecules. Short-chain oils (soybean or canola) offer a single fuel molecule. Essentially, carinata is capable of much higher fuel yield and less byproduct.
Carinata oil is non-edible, so it avoids the food versus fuel controversy.
The meal produced from carinata is high protein—40% to 45%. Northern Great Plains producers have few high-protein sources. Ground is generally too dry for soybeans, and meal is transported in hundreds of miles to feedlots. Carinata could offer livestock producers a feed source in close proximity. Gibbons is trialing swine and cattle fed on carinata meal and comparing the results to soybean meal and corn dry distillers’ grains.
Due to dry conditions, northern Great Plains farmers often set aside a fallow year to build moisture. Yet, up to 60% of moisture can be lost to weeds and evaporation, Gibbons says. Carinata might be a better option than a fallow year and offer a tool to break disease and weed cycles.
Wheat, grain sorghum, sunflowers and pulse crops are most common in the area, but Gibbons believes carinata could be useful in the rotational roster and fight the danger of consistent rotation patterns. “Adding more diversity and variability to crop rotations will help fight pests,” Gibbons says.
Weed control with a new crop such as carinata is a challenge, but herbicides used with canola look promising, and researchers are testing additional products. Agrisoma is searching for non-GMO varieties with herbicide tolerance. USDA recently announced crop insurance will be available in 2016 and beyond.
Based on his small plot work with multiple varieties of carinata, John Rickertsen, research agronomist at the Hettinger Research Extension Center, Hettinger, N.D., says harvest and plant times mirror canola dates. “We planted carinata in late April and treated it like canola. It’s typically drilled early in spring in narrow 7" to 7.5" row spacing,” he says.
While carinata and canola are similar, carinate is more heat- and drought-tolerant and less prone to shatter.
The initial market for carinata oil is domestic biodiesel facilities, although Agrisoma is negotiating contracts with foreign airlines to purchase the full U.S. crop for the next several years. They will crush the crop and process it into jet fuel overseas. The hope is to reach 50,000 acres in the Dakotas and Montana in 2016.
“Maybe acreage could someday reach the point where the western Great Plains would need a jet fuel processing facility,” Gibbons says.