Montana farmers are always interested in new crops that will fit both agronomically and economically within a cereal crop rotation. One crop that is starting to build interest again is camelina.
Camelina isn’t new to Montana. 15 years ago, many thought it would be the next big thing in biodiesel production, but the crop never grabbed a foothold with growers.
The past 3 years though, Sustainable Oils has been working with farmers to increase acres of camelina in Montana. Through continued investment in research, infrastructure and partnerships with others in the industry, Sustainable Oils has seen growth in camelina acres since redeploying with trials in 2019.
Barney Bernstein, Vice President of North American Operations for Sustainable Oils, told Northern Ag Network’s Colter Brown about the growth in acres.
“We relaunched in 2019 with three growers,” Bernstein said. “It did exceptionally well in 2019 on 2 to 4 inches of rain during the growing season. In 2020, we probably had 35,000-40,000 acres of interest. That was COVID year, everything shutdown, we got delayed on acquiring our refinery in Bakersfield, California and we had to push to 2021 for our launch. 2021, we had about 15,000 acres and this year we’ll be on a similar path.”
Bernstein says what makes camelina work for growers, is it can be raised on fallow cereal crop acres, has an early planting window and does surprisingly well in dry conditions.
“Last year with the drought, camelina did very well,” says Bernstein. “Probably on a lot of farms, especially on the hi-line where it was more dry, it was the only crop some farmers harvested.”
Sustainable Oils recently held the grand opening of their Headquarters in Great Falls, MT and Bernstein says the company is continuing to grow and invest in infrastructure.
“We made two acquisitions this year. One is Camelina Company España, which was the second largest camelina company globally, we’re now united. We’re looking at a company in Argentina. We’re going global with camelina because there’s a big demand for renewable fuels and that’s our target. We bought 45 acres of land by the CHS site in Havre, specifically to build storage and load-out of rail cars.”
“Hill County has been probably our largest area of growth of camelina. We’re expanding out now. We’re looking all across the hi-line and recently entered Eastern Montana,” says Bernstein.
Sustainable Oils parent company, Global Clean Energy Holdings (GCEH) bought an oil refinery in California and converted it to be used for renewable diesel production. GCEH has a partnership with ExxonMobil to purchase up to 220 million gallons per year of renewable diesel for the California market. Bernstein says that initially the refinery will use both soybean and camelina oil. They hope to switch solely to camelina, but it will take continued growth in acres to do so.
“We probably need somewhere around 1.5 million acres to completely replace soybean oil and for our farmers where they can’t grow soybeans, we’re going to give them the opportunity to participate in renewable fuels. All of that right now is going to the Midwest and we think there’s an opportunity for people in the Northern Plains to also participate and grab some of that renewable fuel money.”
Northern Ag Network