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.