Intensive 3-crop rotation may boost biofuel economics

04/06/2012 11:18:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

“So we started looking at how we could reduce the production costs and spread the costs out,” he says.

Double cropping helps the economics

During 2010, he added a legume cover crop, which would supply part of the nitrogen, into the rotation. After 60 days, the legume crop is turned under and may provide up to 200 pounds of nitrogen. But not all of the nitrogen is available at once, since it is slowly released during decomposition.

Next, Chellemi planted sunflowers, but only applied 70 pounds of nitrogen.

Once the sunflowers were harvested, he returned with Camelina sativa, a deeprooted 70-day mustard crop known for producing seeds with high oil and high protein content. Because camelina also is a good nutrient forager, Chellemi applied no nitrogen to the plots.

“Now we can make two oil-seed crops with half the fertilizer,” he says of the oneyear cropping system.

Among the questions Chellemi says still need to be answered are ways to reduce fungicide use on the sunflowers and possible pest spectrums for two relatively new crops to the area.

Even if Chellemi addresses potential pests, Neill says the state will need infrastructure to handle the oil seed crops.

“It’s not just going out and planting it and making money,” he says. “You have to extract the oil, market the byproducts and decant the oil.”

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