Great Plains seeks camelina contractsWritten by Christy Hemken
Great Plains is a renewable fuels energy company, founded with the purpose of manufacturing and marketing biodiesel from camelina. In the last few years they’ve begun to actively seek grower contracts in the high plains, including Wyoming.
“We like to think we brought camelina to the biofuels world,” says Great Plains CEO Sam Huttenbauer, noting his company is in its fourth growing year. Although the company currently only has a handful of growers in Wyoming, Huttenbauer says they’d liketo pick up more.
“The ideal grower for us is a producer looking to rotate an oilseed crop into a wheat rotation,” says Huttenbauer. “Typically they’re dryland farmers that may not have an alternative oilseed to work into their rotation.”
He says ideal growers are also those with fallow ground because of lack of moisture or weed or disease pressures, as well as growers without an alternative who are forced to do wheat-on-wheat. He points out land producing marginal crops is also a good candidate because of the low input needs of camelina.
The company says their additional varieties provide growers of the biofuel crop with more options that can be tailored to their climate, geography and other factors.
“What we’ve done as a company for over five years is focus on a number of aspects and work on breeding new varieties,” says Huttenbauer. “For over 14 years we’ve been researching the crop genetically and developing agronomic programs specifically for our growers, tailored to their growing regions.”
He says among the new varieties are some offered for fall planting, which will help solve some moisture and establishment challenges. “We find a lot with the dryland growers in the plains that their moisture for the year comes at the end of winter, and by the time they get their crops in the field it may be April, and they’ve missed the moisture window. They then get into a period of prolonged drought and have trouble getting crop establishment.’”
Because there are only a few Great Plains camelina growers in Wyoming at the present there aren’t any specific elevators established, but the way the contracts are set up the grower is responsible for shipping the first 60 miles and Great Plains covers the rest of the freight if there’s not an elevator within that distance.
“If a grower is beyond our typical growing region they shouldn’t worry about a lack of delivery points,” says Huttenbauer, adding, “As we continue to add growers we’ll look for points to consolidate the product, which will benefit everyone.”
Huttenbauer says Great Plains offers either a set price or a contract with market ties, which includes a base price, then upward incentives based on petroleum markets.
Looking to the future, Huttenbauer says his company grew 200 percent in contracted acres last year, and they’re looking to double that this year. “We’ve had tremendous growth, and seen an increase in the mention of camelina for biodiesel,” he notes.
He says when Great Plains began contracting four years ago camelina was an unknown crop. “Since that time there have been two changes in biofuels,” he explains. “One is that there’s been a switch to ‘next generation’ biofuel crops, and camelina plays nicely into that from water, pesticides and fertilizers, which means it plays favorably in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.”
He says another characteristic of the next generation crops is that it’s grown and processed into biofuel without affecting food production.
Huttenbauer says in the near future the airline industry will begin to use camelina biodiesel for jet fuel. The biodiesel process also produces a meal high in omega 3 fatty acids.
“Camelina makes an interesting and unique crop because, unlike other processes for biofuels, it’s non-food and adding to the feed needs for livestock. That’s the opposite of the complaint about the first-generation crops,” he notes.
“Another reason why camelina is growing so fast in popularity is because it’s great for farmers,” says Huttenbauer. “It’s a sound rotational crop that provides a good return on the farm.”