By Michele F. Mihaljevich
WOBURN, Mass. – Winter trials for camelina are underway and spring trials are in the planning stages, but the president and CEO of Yield10 Bioscience said the company is trying not to move too fast in its efforts to promote the benefits of the oilseed plant.
Camelina is similar to canola, flax and safflower. Its oil can be used as a low-carbon biofuels feedstock and its meal in animal feed. The natural polyester polymers found in camelina seed can be used in the production of biodegradable bioplastics.
Yield10 has conducted trials across the country, including in Illinois and Iowa, Dr. Oliver Peoples said. About 1,000 acres of camelina winter trials have been planted in Idaho, and in Alberta and Manitoba, Canada.
“We’re a small company so I think moving forward, we’re obviously looking to build the organization,” he explained. “We see a very large opportunity in the Central Corn Belt. We’re really working very actively to form relationships with companies who could take the grain and process it and really allow us to ramp up the whole program to build scale, which is really critical. But it’s really important not to build scale too fast with a new crop.
“Farmers like the crop,” Peoples continued. “What we see is tremendous interest in camelina. To build up, to get tens of millions of acres, it will take time but ultimately the best thing Yield10 can do is to make those first few steps very carefully.”
In talking with growers, Peoples said the impression he’s had is they consider camelina a great opportunity once they have the herbicide packages and the value chain established. Yield10 is working on herbicide packages and on forming partnerships to establish the value chain for camelina, he said.
Earlier in January, Yield10 signed a memorandum of understanding with Mitsubishi Corp. to evaluate the establishment of a partnership to supply, offtake and market camelina as a low-carbon feedstock oil for biofuels. Mitsubishi has announced a goal to mass produce sustainable aviation fuel to decarbonize commercial aviation, according to a release.
Camelina, which isn’t native to North America, can be used as a cover crop or a spring crop, Peoples said, adding camelina gives growers flexibility in rotations. With proper herbicide and weed control, it has some additional advantages in allowing growers to manage weed pressure created while growing other crops that don’t have good weed protection, he pointed out.
Cover crops have been promoted by the USDA and others as a way to protect the land and reduce nutrient runoff, Peoples stated. Those are good things, but growers may be looking for something more, he said.
“Plugging the crop in before you plant the spring crop is not really an attractive proposition. It’s the cost, the cost and the cost,” Peoples said. “If we’re successful in really developing camelina for this purpose, having a harvested grain that you can take off before you harvest your other crops would be huge. It would be a tremendous incentive to actually put cover crops down and I think that’s actually what’s missing from the whole cover cropping concept.”
Growers have told Peoples they’re “looking for opportunity to protect their assets, to create some redundancy in their cropping year so they have some alternatives so there’s always going to be some revenue. They’re looking for ways to better manage their entire land holding, and having new crops and new markets is a big opportunity for them, so they see that.”
Producers ask pragmatic questions about such things as yield, the potential for making a profit and how they might need to plant or harvest the crop, he said.
“Farmers are very damn smart business people and they have to be. That’s as tough a business as you’re ever going to be in. They’re very smart, very sophisticated, and there’s a new generation actually coming out – all college degrees, very smart people building off the family farms and the past. What you see are more probing questions, a lot of interest in where we’re at, what are we considering for this solution, for that solution, and we’re very open with them. We don’t hold anything back. We tell them the good, the bad and the ugly.”