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Helping fellow farmers
Studies published of oilseed growing in eastern Washington
Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011
By Michael Burley, CAHNRS news intern
WSU continues to be a leader in developing solutions that are making oilseed crops an economically viable alternative for Pacific Northwest farmers. In January, WSU experts will offer oilseed crop production workshops in Odessa and Colfax. Learn more here.
The first in a series by researchers in the Washington State University Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, it can be downloaded as a PDF here.
Despite the challenges, the farmers said they would continue producing oilseed crops.
Generating income from oil, solids
One of the major drivers for oilseed crop production in the Pacific Northwest is generating a secondary income stream for growers.
"We were looking for something to provide more income on fallow," Colfax, Wash., farmer Tom Conrad said, "so we started growing canola about 10 years ago."
Besides selling the oil, some farmers use it to produce their own biodiesel and create a measure of energy independence.
"I sold the oil to someone nearby who was already making biodiesel,” said farmer Lee Druffel of Colton, Wash. "Although I have not made biodiesel myself, I've used a blend from the pump in my equipment and it performed well for me. I like having an alternative fuel source."
After the seeds have been crushed to capture the oil, the remaining solid material may be ground into meal, an important protein source for livestock feed.
Soil health, history important
Oilseed crops may also be used to improve the health of a field.
"There is no doubt, from the perspective of soil health, that an oilseed crop does something to the ground that's good,” said Druffel. "The soil is mellow, and the roots will break through the hardpan at 16-18 inches. Now that's a darned good subsoiler."
All five farmers concurred that knowing the chemical history of a field was an issue to be considered before planting oilseed crops.
Colfax farmer John Hinnenkamp, who has grown spring canola for 14 years, advised others to start small and grow a manageable crop.
The decision of what to grow correlates with the demands of the market. In recent years, for instance, mustard has had a higher market value than canola. Steve Teade of Colfax explained his decision to switch: "Mustard has been better for us due to flexibility, profit and less expense."
Calculating profitable financial returns and contacting area processors to assess potential market demand for a particular crop are integral parts of planting an oilseed crop.