Alta. firm targets more carinata acres

Five to 15-fold increase sought | Agrisoma says carinata-based biofuel passed aviation tests ‘with flying colours’

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. — It’s hardier and more drought tolerant than canola and this year was worth $12.50 per bushel plus a grower bonus of $40 per acre.

Those kinds of credentials might prompt prairie farmers to sign up for Resonance carinata contracts next year, although details are still being developed.

Agrisoma Biosciences contracted 6,700 acres of the brassica oilseed this year, which was virtually all the seed available. The resulting crop was processed into biofuel for use in aviation.

Daryl Males, Agrisoma’s plant breeder and agronomist, told those at the Farming Smarter conference Dec. 5 that his company plans to contract more acres of Resonance this year, distributed through Paterson Grain.

Agrisoma president Steve Fabijanski said in a later interview the company will look for at least 33,000 acres in 2013.

“Our targets are anywhere from a five to 15-fold increase in the total number of acres,” Fabijanski said.

“I think a lot of that’s going to be depending on where we go in terms of the contracting program. We’re still working on all those details.”

Males shared hot-off-the-press results from aviation tests with biofuel made from 100 percent carinata, which were conducted by the National Research Council in Ottawa.

He said tests with the NRC Falcon 20 jet showed an increase in fuel efficiency, a 50 percent reduction in aerosol emissions and no effect on engine performance.

“The great news is we passed with flying colours on all fronts,” said Males. “This fuel meets all the specs and all the performance criteria that can be measured.”

Fabijanski said the complete results are still being calculated.

“The main thing is, the Resonance based fuel essentially allows you to fly a plane like you would normally fly a plane, but have a lot less emissions coming out the back end.”

Those results bolster Agrisoma’s plans to contract more carinata acres next year and provide the aviation industry with the greener fuel it requires to meet reduced emissions goals.

David Horn of Shaunavon, Sask., was one of the farmers who grew the crop this year, and he plans to grow more in 2013.

“The field I had it on was just super wet in the spring, so it was hard seeding. Then we got a pile of rain and a lot of it drowned out, and then of course it got real dry and it started droughting out,” said Horn.

“But then all that stuff that was drowned, it all came back. It was quite amazing, actually.”

The canola he planted on the other half of the section was mostly drowned after heavy spring rain. It eventually yielded 14 bushels to the acre, while the carinata produced 25 bu.

Horn said canola doesn’t usually provide high yields in his area because of heat and low rainfall. Mustard is better suited, and carinata is similar.

He sprayed the crop for thistles and after that the carinata overcame weeds with its major branching ability. Southern Saskatchewan also sustained high winds at harvest time and the carinata withstood shelling, unlike his canola.

He isn’t sure if the price he received this year will apply next year, but he is optimistic about the crop prospects.

“Until they get established, they are probably going to have to give some incentives, but I think once they get going, it’s going to sell itself.”

Carinata, also known as Ethiopian mustard, has high oil content and produces fuel that fits into the existing biofuel infrastructure, said Males. It also fits into prairie farmers’ cropping practices because of its similarity to canola and mustard.

“The airline industry likes to use the term ‘drop-in renewable fuels,’ something they can just take and run in their system,” Fabijanski said.

“We think carinata is sort of a drop-in agricultural crop because people have familiarity with it and people know how to manage it and consolidate it and grow it.”

This year’s crop yielded an average 43.6 percent oil, which is higher than the 40 percent threshold required to be economically produced.

Yields on the 42 fields planted in 2012 ranged from 10 bu. per acre to 42 bu., including fields that sustained major hail damage.

Most of the acres were not sprayed with herbicide. There were fewer problems with aster yellows and bertha armyworm than in canola crops and less heat blast but damage from other insects was similar, said Males. Carinata is resistant to blackleg.

Good shatter resistance was seen at harvest, with straight cutting preferred and a long dry-down time recommended because of high biomass.

“Plan on it being the last crop off,” said Males.

One of carinata’s advantages is its unusual branching ability.

The crop got off to a slow start in cool, wet conditions this year, which prompted some to consider plowing down. However, all farmers kept the crop and reasonable yields were achieved.

“It can branch and branch and branch,” Males said.

“It impressed us a lot this year and certainly that was a comment from lots of the growers.”

He said nine fields were planted next to canola, which allowed comparisons, albeit unscientific ones. In those cases, carinata yielded the same or better than hybrid canola crops.

The small launch of Resonance this year allowed Agrisoma and growers to learn more about the crop.

A seeding rate of six pounds per acre was the average, with the goal of eight plants per sq. foot. A half-inch planting depth is recommended, although few growers achieved that this year because of pounding rain and soil crusting.

Pre-seed burn-off is recommended and carinata planted in late April or early May this year did best, said Males.

Growers made their own decisions on fertilizer, depending on their expectations, and rates ranged from 35 to 110 lb. per acre.

Surveys showed 60 percent of producers would grow the crop again and another 36 percent said they would consider it.

The global aviation industry has committed to become carbon neutral by 2020 and reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2050 from the 2005 level.

It bodes well for the crop’s future if carinata biofuel can help achieve that.

“The National Airlines Council of Canada estimates 150 million litres of biojet fuel will be required to meet the 2020 mandate alone,” said Males.

“This means that two million acres in Western Canada would allow the Canadian airline industry, in Western Canada only, to be 100 percent biojet fuel.”

He estimated that supplying the United States military would require 8.5 million acres of production.

However, the airline industry buys fuel on seven or eight year contracts, which could be an issue for farmers and biofuel manufacturers.

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