Western Washington production presents a vastly different set of concerns and opportunities for biofuel crop production when compared to central and eastern Washington. Western Washington agriculture is dominated by dairy, high-value specialty crops (fruits, vegetables, seed, etc.), forages/grasses, and forest land. Historical experience with biofuel crops, like canola and mustard, west of the Cascades is very limited. One significant opportunity for western Washington production of canola is production on organically certified land. Canola meal (the residuals after the oil is extracted) is an important feed product for dairies, and organic dairies are a rapidly growing segment of Washington’s dairy industry. Current prices for imported organic canola meal are 3X to 4X the price for conventional canola meal – representing both an opportunity for value-added canola production as well as reduced feed costs for Washington dairies. Organic canola production could prove to be a critical rotational crop for high-value organic fruit and vegetable producers in the state.
WSU initiated the first small research trials for canola and mustard in Mt. Vernon in 2005 with surprisingly positive results in terms of yield potential. This success led to a larger, on-farm research trial of promising varieties in 2006 which was a mixed bag of successes and failures. Yields were very high when compared with expectations, but the quality of the seed was too poor for processing (the crop did not cure and dry out sufficiently for processing). Weed management for organic production of canola is likely to be a major issue to resolve during stand establishment. The basic knowledge of canola and mustard production in western Washington is very limited, so fundamental agronomic research is a priority.
Growing Biofuels in Western Washington