Subsidies for Oil Seed in Washington State

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A 2012 white paper from WSU Pullman ( identifies that no farmers elected to participate in the 2011 Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) subsidies.  Why? Because the sharp penciled farmers found it economically bad compared to standard crop insurance and market reliability of standard wheat crop rotations.  According to the study, farmers in the mid-Columbia would have lost $211 million in 2011 assuming the switch.  Senator Maria Cantwell claimed this brainchild project in 2011.

Washington is 6th in national wheat production.  The lands approaching economic suitability and reliability (low rain dry land farming) for oil seed comprise 886000 acres or 17% of all state wheat land.  The arid/marginal land (2.8 million acres) need not apply due to failure to reliably grow camelina.

The study also notes that complete conversion would displace about 1.2% of the diesel consumed in the state.  With inclusion of jet fuel it would be 0.6%.

But wait, there’s more.  Canola oil from rape seed is part of our food supply.  The higher oil camelina analog plant does not provide food because it has some nasty natural pesticide chemicals in it.  There is concern that while diverting acreage to camelina instead of upsetting canola food chain, the residual seed pulp cannot be used.  It doesn’t work in chicken and pig feed because it’s toxic.  However, if we can Genetically Modify the plant to keep the toxins in the plant and not the seeds, then we can push the GM residue into the animal feed.  Thus the study grant to U. Mass to do just that.

But wait, there’s more.  The seed oil feedstock for bio-fuel to date in Washington has been limited and suffered transportation costs to the converter plant.  The output from the conversion is being exported to Europe.  Thus, any subsidy investment to date in the state of Washington is not providing any change in the state’s consumption of traditional fuels.

But wait, there’s more.  Montana experimented with camelina prior to Washington’s discovery.  It failed economically and in production expectations.  Montana also has better rainfall for marginal land production than the wheat area of Washington.  Since it failed, why would we expect the BCAP to be any different here?

Isn’t this fun?

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