Producers look for the benefits in growing safflower in eastern WyomingWritten by Saige Albert
Randall notes that most of the increase has been seen in confectionary sunflowers in the Powell area, but he says producers have also begun producing other oilseed crops such as safflower.
“Safflower isn’t a new crop in Wyoming,” says Albin producer Theron Anderson. “It just hasn’t been used much for a long time.”
Reemerging in Wyoming
Anderson says he decided to pursue growing safflower again for the first time this year, though he remembers his father planting the crop when he was a child.
“I was looking for a rotational crop to use instead of sunflowers, so we thought we’d give it a shot,” says Anderson. “It’s all new to me.”
Anderson notes that he is using safflower in a no-till system, but he’s seen others raise the crop in a conventional fallow system.
“It will be interesting to see how it goes,” he adds.
Why grow safflower?
“Most farmers are using a summer fallow, and that summer fallow costs them money,” says Ray Templeton, president of Dreamland Industries, Ltd., which contracts for safflower. “Planting safflower will allow farmers to produce a crop and allow them to be productive during that period.”
Templeton adds that research shows summer fallow uses as much water, if not more water, than growing a spring crop, and the practice is “not the way to go.”
“Farmers want to take advantage of the water that is available so it’s not just going back into the atmosphere,” he says. “Safflower allows growers to get a third crop into their rotation. If it is harvested early enough, farmers can plant winter wheat right after, which is a big benefit.”
Anderson marks the earlier maturation of the crop as a reason he decided to plant safflower, saying, “The fact that safflower matures earlier than sunflowers means there is a chance of planting wheat in the fall after it.”
Safflower also has soil benefits, according to Templeton, who says the crop mellows the soil.
“No-till farmers, in particular, are always looking for ways to better condition their soil, and safflower helps them do that,” he explains. “It mellows out the soil and improves soil health.”
Larry Pahl, a safflower grower from the Kimball, Neb. area, says he hopes to gain soil benefits from the taproot system of the crop.
“It has a taproot system that will go down and loosen the soil,” he explains. “If it goes deep enough, hopefully that will bring some of the nitrogen in the lower levels of the soil and recycle that up for crops that follow it.”
By making more nitrogen available to crops planted following the safflower, Pahl hopes to see continued benefits, even when the crop isn’t in the ground.
“Plus, what it appears to be doing to the soil texture is favorable,” he mentions.
Templeton also remarks that safflower stubble helps catch snow and slows wind erosion, as well.
Randall notes that safflower also provides opportunities as far as weed management is concerned, because it is a broadleaf.
“It has some excellent opportunities to use some different chemicals to get rid of those species that belong to the grain family,” explains Randall. “I think that will help quite a bit.”
Though Pahl mentions that establishing a herbicide program has proved challenging, the crop could provide an alternative broadleaf crop.
“I would recommend that those who are in dryland situations looking for an alternative broadleaf crop that has a pretty good market value to consider and try it on a small scale,” Pahl comments, cautioning producers to not put all their eggs in one basket, and to see if it works before going large scale. “It’s important to understand the system we are using it in is a no-till continuous crop system, not a summer fallow.”
Pahl also notes that the market is relatively small, saying, “Safflower isn’t something you can take to your local elevator and sell.”
“We used to grow safflower in the ‘60s, and I’m always looking for an alternative crop to put into our crop operations,” explains Pahl. “Safflower appears to be suited – both moisture-wise and growing season-wise – to our area.”
What is safflower?
Safflower is crop marketed mainly as a specialty oilseed and for birdseed, according to a Wyoming Business Council Report. The crop is a hardy, dryland crop grown largely in California, Montana and across the Northern Plains. Wyoming currently has safflower producers in both the northeast and southeast areas of the state.
“Safflower is primarily used for a very high-end vegetable cooking oil,” explains Ray Templeton, president of Dreamland Industries, Ltd. “It has real health benefits, as well.”
Templeton mentions that safflower oil can help reduce cholesterol, and is a very clean-tasting oil.
Larry Pahl, a safflower grower from Kimball, Neb., adds that safflower oil is used for biodiesel and is highly sought after in the cosmetic industry for oil-based cosmetics, as well.
Oilseed production continuesWritten by Heather Hamilton
Lingle – “A one-ton per day crusher is pretty small scale, but it can run 24/7,” says Ryan Lafferty, an independent consultant with Custom Camelina of the machine used at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) to crush oilseed crops.
“The crusher has a screw drive in it that’s captured by a tapered cylinder, so it gets tighter and tighter. You can switch screws, or jets, to increase oil yield. Right now the machine is running at full capacity, which is 90 rpm, on a number 8 jet. I’ve had it as tight as a 6 jet, and that’s about as far as I go on this crusher.
“There’s a magnet on it to ensure no metal goes into the system, and if something gets clogged that screw will still run and push everything in until it’s a really tight meal,” explains Lafferty.
He adds that the smaller scale crusher is really easy to clean and takes much less time to unclog than some models.
“With lower quality models it’s a four- to eight-hour job cleaning it out. It’s not a matter of if these machines will clog, it’s a matter of when, so cleaning time is worth considering. If the machine clogs and continues running you will ruin equipment pretty fast,” says Lafferty.
To prevent this, an electronic eye is placed in front of the meal expelled from the machine. If the meal stops flowing, the eye will automatically shut off the machine. “When you come back from the field you can deal with it in about 20 minutes,” notes Lafferty.
Camelina is one oilseed crushed in the SAREC machine.
“Camelina seed is a good, high oil content crop. There are some things still being worked out with the crop, but it has great potential,” says Lafferty. “It has high levels of omega-3 oils in the meal that will transfer to cattle and other livestock that eat it and into the resulting meat products. There’s also a lot of interest in this crop for jet fuel. It can’t run straight up at high altitude, but it has great cold-flow properties.”
Producing camelina in this state is a challenge, according to Wyoming Business Council Crop and Forage Program Manager Donn Randall.
“It’s an expensive crop in this state. Last year we had 250 acres in production and didn’t get one bushel of yield. This was due to a variety of issues, but we still have a way to go on the production end,” adds Randall.
Safflower is another oilseed crop currently grown near Sheridan with much success. “Some of the safflower crops are looking at yields over 2,000 pounds per acre,” says Randall
“But the crop we’ve had the most success with is still canola. Beckton Stock Farm’s first test plot of canola produced over 2,300 pounds per acre. It probably would have been closer to 2,600 pounds per acre, but they swathed and combined it too late, so there was a lot of shatter.” he notes.
Of the customers for oilseed crops, Randall says students are at the top.
“Our biggest customers are probably highschoolers and youth. Nothing against people older than that, but it’s a matter of, ‘tradition says I’m going to do it this way and I’m not changing.’ We’ve found working with youth very rewarding.
“We did a pilot program through a high school chemistry class and that class is now completely full for next year because of what they’re doing with their oilseed project,” explains Randall.
He adds the Wyoming Oilseed Working Partners have made many current projects possible within the state. Cost share grants are still available to producers interested in seed production.
“There are a lot of economics involved in raising oilseed crops, just like in any other industry. We’re learning,” notes Randall.
A tour on Wyoming oilseed crop and biodiesel production is scheduled for Sept. 13 at Phil and Kate Boreens’ ranch near Otto. The tour will focus on the benefits and opportunities involved in producing oilseeds and include alternative energy projects the Boreens use on their operation.
Co-op moves forward in oilseed processingWritten by Christy Hemken
Sheridan – In a move to step out in the lead and encourage oilseed production in northeast Wyoming, the Farmers Cooperative Oil Company & Propane Service of Sheridan has purchased oilseed crushers and designated storage space for three oilseed crops.
In partnership with Northeastern Wyoming RC&D, the Wyoming Business Council (WBC) and UW Cooperative Extension, among others, the co-op is now in a recruitment phase, educating producers and encouraging them to add canola, sunflowers and safflower to their conventional production.
“The co-op has stepped out and shown leadership by buying presses and storage and they need the acres to make it come together,” says Northeastern Wyoming RC&D Area Coordinator Aaron Waller, noting the presence of progressive leaders amongst co-op management and members.
Farmers Cooperative Agronomy Manager Tom Novack says the co-op members became interested in oilseed when biodiesel was attractive due to high diesel prices. Although prices have come down, Novack says biodiesel production is still a viable enterprise.
Waller says, even with the lower cost of diesel, there is plenty of potential growth in the local Sheridan market. “Ever since they took sulfur out of diesel it’s become a lot dryer, which doesn’t give the performance diesel used to,” he says. “If biodiesel is mixed in that performance comes back, and truckers love it because of increased mileage. There’s nothing to lose with a biodiesel blend.”
WBC Value-Added Program Manager Don Randall says a Western SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) Grant submitted December 2008 brought $50,000 to the state to help producers interested in growing oilseed crops. The funds are helping cost-share seeds, expenses and equipment and they also funded a nine-person oilseed trade mission to the Northwest, as well as a future trip to Montana.
The Farmers Cooperative’s role in the northeast Wyoming system will be to store and crush the oilseeds, converting them to oil and meal. The oil will go on to another party – human consumption or conversion to biodiesel are two marketing options – while the meal, a valuable livestock feed, will still be owned by the producers.
Although the cooperative has made the move to obtain the two presses, which arrived early October, it hasn’t yet begun to crush the oilseed in storage from trial fields due to priority of the co-op’s other responsibilities.
Variety trials in the Sheridan area include winter and spring canola, sunflowers and safflower. “Spring varieties of canola are susceptible to heat stress when they bloom in the summer, so new varieties of winter canola can be planted at the same time as winter wheat so they’re farther ahead in the spring and flower and bloom when it’s still pretty cool, giving higher yields,” explains Randall.
“Canola does require irrigation, but it doesn’t take as much water as alfalfa, which makes it an option for replanting or rotations,” he adds.
Novak says the co-op hasn’t hired specifically for the oilseed aspect yet, although it’s possible, depending on how far the enterprise goes. “From what we have in storage right now, we already have enough for three people to crush for two to three months,” he says.
Looking forward, Novack says as long as there’s interest the co-op is looking to add growers to the 20 already involved. He adds the crops the co-op promotes are marketable for end uses other than biodiesel, like human consumption, which lends stability to the oilseeds.
Randall adds, “These oilseed crops are very high quality oil, so it would be great if we could develop some way of processing and keeping the oil in the community by getting restaurants to use the oil, but that would require a commercial-grade oil processing facility.”
Randall says the oilseed crops are a good option for producers looking to try an alternative crop with handling facilities in-state.
Waller says that, to date, northeast Wyoming has lacked a delivery point. “This project takes producers, a processor and a market, and until now we’ve been missing one part – the processor.”
“It’s an interesting challenge to convince a producer to go into any alternative crop, because the first question is about the market,” comments Randall. “We’re trying to learn as we go, and we’re trying to develop new markets.”
As a part of the effort to provide information about oilseed crops, Northeastern Wyoming RC&D, UW Cooperative Extension and the WBC will host a series of meetings featuring different aspects of production. The next meeting will include a roast beef dinner on Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. in Sheridan at the Watt AG Center on the Sheridan College campus.
Wyoming biodiesel: Casper project would provide local market for oilseedWritten by Christy Hemken
Casper – A new business led by two Casper entrepreneurs seeks to be the main market for increased oilseed production in Wyoming while creating opportunity for several industries in the state.
According to Bryan Aivazian, who is partnering with Max Meihak on the project, Wyo Biodiesel, Inc. will include an oilseed crushing operation and a biodiesel production facility in Casper – a central location for growers from Torrington to the Big Horn Basin.
“We think this is a great opportunity for farmers,” says Aivazian. “For the last few years the Wyoming Business Council has provided incentives to farmers looking for alternative crops, including oilseeds. The farmers have experimented, and like the crop, but right now it has to go to either North Dakota or Kansas for crushing, and that’s not a viable market.”
Aivazian says the company’s goal is to contract statewide with oilseed growers. “They can do either dryland or irrigated production,” he says. “You grow it, we buy it.”
He says Wyo Biofuels won’t offer commodity prices for oilseed, but rather will pay according to the price of petroleum diesel. “As the cost of petroleum diesel increases, there will be an incremental increase in the price we’ll pay to farmers. We won’t lock them into a price. That margin will be split between us,” he explains.
Current price estimates and reasonable returns are based on models the company has developed with assistance from the University of Wyoming and Extension agents.
“We think we’ve got a good business plan, where farmers can get $60 to $70 per acre profit on irrigated acres, and around $40 to $45 per acre profit on dryland,” says Aivazian, noting that’s based on current petroleum diesel prices.
“The biodiesel plant will offer a lot of opportunities for Wyoming – creating jobs in the biodiesel and crushing operation, creating alternative crops for farmers and producing meal as a by-product for in-state feedlots,” says Aivazian, adding that one-quarter of an oilseed’s mass is extracted as oil, and the rest is meal. “Right now feedlots buy meal from out-of-state, and a lot of their cost is transportation. If we can provide the product to feedlots at a lower price, they’re, in turn, supporting other Wyoming farmers, and that’s a good deal.”
“We’ve talked to a few growers who want to sell us the seed, buy the biodiesel and take the meal back,” he adds. “We’re creating a lot of opportunity for shared Wyoming industries to support each other.”
A few years into operation the company also hopes to have a refining process worked out to make the glycerin by-product suitable for animal consumption. “Right now feedlots mix molasses or other types of high energy supplements with their rations, and glycerin is also approved,” says Aivazian. “That’s another way we could take a product and turn it back to use by Wyoming agriculture.”
Aivazian explains making biodiesel is a relatively simple process, involving 10 parts oil and one part alcohol added to a catalyst, heat, and machinery, resulting in 10 parts biodiesel and one part glycerin.
“Making biodiesel necessitates a number of support industries, including grease collection from restaurants, farmers, trucking, crushing and sales of meal and glycerin,” says Aivazian. “We believe all of that is very good for Wyoming.”
Although construction has not yet begun, Aivazian says the company expects to open its doors in early 2011. “We have a location chosen in town – a couple acres, which is big enough for a 5,000 square-foot building to house the seed crushing and biodiesel machinery. We will also have a 50,000- to 60,000-bushel grain storage system outside to dry and store seed, which would feed directly into the crusher,” he explains.
Through the first year of production the facility would be able to house 100 days of oilseed supply, but when it gets going strong the storage would only last 30 or 40 days.
Aivazian says Wyo Biodiesel is seeking contracts for the 2011 growing season, including winter canola planted this fall. “The yields are actually coming out better for winter canola than spring varieties,” he adds. “If we can get growers to commit and plant this fall, then we would know what kind of acreage we have in the project and a higher amount of oilseeds per acre.”
Aivazian says he’s hoping to get the handful of growers who’ve experimented with the Wyoming Business Council to join with the project as a resource on how to best grow oilseed. He says the company is also looking for contract growers for landowners who may not want to produce oilseed themselves.
“We want to do everything we can to provide as much assistance to make the transition to a new crop as easy as possible,” he says.
“We’ll accept any type of oilseed, and at this point it looks like canola is the best crop for Wyoming,” notes Aivazian. “But the rising star in this area is camelina, as it’s very cold resistant, drought resistant and its total water requirement is only 10 inches per year. It grows on absolutely marginal soils, and it has a prospect of much higher yields per acre.”
However, he says there aren’t many products registered for camelina at this time, which he thinks makes canola a better bet for the next few growing seasons.
When comparing the processing of the two oilseeds, Aivazian says camelina has a much smaller seed than canola, and the two have to be crushed separately on very different equipment settings.
However, he says the decision on which seed will go into the biodiesel plant will be less what they want, and more which crop the farmers want to produce.
Of the benefits and incentives to use a biodiesel blend, Aivazian says the recent trend toward ultra-low sulfur petroleum diesel has left the fuel with little lubricity. “Straight biodiesel has many times the lubricant than petroleum diesel, so even a five percent blend bring the ultra low sulfur diesel up to what it has been traditionally.
“At a 10 to 20 percent blend, you’ve increased lubricity beyond what petroleum diesel ever was, so it’s better for wear and tear on engines,” he adds.
Of using biodiesel in cold temperatures, Aivazian says it does have a higher gel point than petroleum diesel, but Yellowstone National Park has used a 25 to 30 percent blend in the winter for the last several years with no problem.
“If you’re mixing five to 20 percent biodiesel with conventional diesel, you’re raising the gel point minimally,” he says. “And if you’re adding it to a Number 1 diesel, you’re still in a very healthy window of operability.”
In addition to oilseeds, used vegetable oil from Casper-area restaurants will also be a small part of the operation, with potential expansion to areas in the rest of the state.
Of the end user of the biodiesel, Aivazian says WyDOT has expressed interest, and school districts and trucking companies are also potential markets, as well as coal mines and agriculture.
“If you’re the farmer producing oilseed for us, we’d love to put some biodiesel in your tank,” comments Aivazian. “We see ourselves working directly with large end users or supplying bulk dealers.
At this point we don’t see ourselves opening a fueling station, but we’d hope a station in town would like to start offering biodiesel.”
This spring Wyo Biodiesel, Inc. is finishing up a grant through USDA Rural Development, filling out the rest of their investors and is looking for a Wyoming-based company to build the building.
“There are so many pieces that have to work together,” says Aivazian. “It’s been daunting, but exciting, because everyone we’ve talked to has been very supportive. Our goal was not to create a whole new set of interrelated industries for the state, but it’s kind of coming down to that.”