As Montana producers look for economical crop varieties, camelina continues to perk intrigue. With continued research and awareness, camelina is gaining viability as a rotational crop, and Sustainable Oils plans to offer growers in Montana the opportunity to produce and sell camelina through a vertically-integrated market.
Sustainable Oils began developing camelina for use in jet fuel about 15 years ago, and the camelina asset has since been bought by the company Global Clean Energy Holdings (GCEH).
GCEH is dedicated to the development of vegetable oils for use in renewable fuels and it was turned on to camelina for its use as a renewable diesel. The fact it can be grown in drier climates and does well in rotation with crops like wheat, makes camelina revenue incremental to many farmers. It additionally perked GCEH’s interest because camelina is not a popular food crop and it doesn’t displace a food crop by being planted in acres that would otherwise go fallow, thus eliminating the dichotomy of production for food vs. oil.
“GCEH began the redeployment process with camelina in 2017 and we started doing some trialing in 2019 and 2020,” explained Barney Bernstein, senior director of plant services for Sustainable Oils.
In April of 2020, GCEH bought an oil refinery in Bakersfield, Calif., and they are in the process of converting it from a petroleum-based refinery to a vegetable-based refinery to be used for renewable diesel production in the California market. As a state, California is a leader in climate change, so they have mandated energy companies to reduce the carbon intensity of the fuel they deliver. This is where camelina comes into play, Bernstein says, because it has the lowest carbon intensity score of any vegetable oil feedstock.
It just so happens, Montana is currently the best place to grow camelina, and Sustainable Oils is looking forward to being the bridge between the production and use of the crop. Camelina can be seen as a win-win for both sides.
From a production standpoint, camelina offers advantages to growers. For example, it is an early-maturing crop – requiring on average a 90-100-day growing season so it can be harvested even before winter wheat. Also, to producers struggling with depressed commodity markets, camelina is an economically positive alternative to expensive fallow acres. The state of California wins in the deal because they need to reduce their smog.
“It becomes more of a partnership. We have something that can help the farmer’s economics and farmers can provide us with grain,” Bernstein pointed out.
Sustainable Oils has partnered with CHS, a company well known and respected in Montana, to provide their agronomy expertise and to help with the logistics of loading the camelina grain onto trains in Montana for delivery to California for crushing.
Sustainable Oils has been breeding camelina since 2005, so the company is truly a leader in the field. Currently, they have one commercial variety available and they are diligently working on perfecting six more varieties with at least three of those varieties planned to release in 2022.
“Before 2005, camelina was a wild crop – considered by many as a weed. What we have been doing is trying to develop that weed into a consistent yielding crop and our breeder has done a good job with that,” Bernstein said.
With CHS as the service provider, Sustainable Oils will be contracting acres with Montana farmers for the 2021 growing season. Bernstein attested, this camelina push from Sustainable Oils will be different from the one previously experienced because this time around Sustainable Oils vows to be more heavily involved with the producers who grow for them. There are some nuances to camelina that growers must be apprised of to ensure high yields and Sustainable Oils wants to do everything they can to help their growers be as successful as possible.
“We spend time with our growers during planting and we spend time with them during harvest to make sure we can get their equipment adjusted so they can have the best crop possible,” Bernstein stated.
Sustainable Oils is currently accepting contracts. Anyone interested in the possibility of growing camelina is encouraged to reach out to Barney Bernstein directly at 406-450-2398 or by e-mail at email@example.com.