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Progress Report, 2010

April, 2011

Executive Summary


The Washington State Biofuels Cropping Systems (WBCS) Program was initiated in 2008 to provide research and extension leadership, coordination and government/industry linkages targeting the expansion of biofuel feedstock production in Washington state. An emerging demand for biofuel crop feedstocks is rapidly growing in the regional ground and air transportation fuel markets, and regional processing industries will require local feedstocks to be viable. Previous to this project, dryland agronomic research and extension programming at WSU over the past century has predominantly focused on cereal production in the region. The WBCS program uniquely focuses on implementing crop diversification and intensification by utilizing oilseed crops grown in rotation with cereals. With expanded crop choices, producers can lead the way towards agronomic and economic development, improving the sustainability of the region, increasing our energy security, and positively impacting the environment. A near term goal will be to increase oilseed acreage from <1% to 10% within the next 5-10 years. In the first three years of the project, WSU and USDA-ARS scientists have identified specific opportunities, benefits and constraints for oilseed and cellulosic production in each of the each of the four major cropping zones defined by precipitation and temperature. New discoveries and information shared from fifteen projects across the State of Washington is helping fuel more interest from growers about the opportunities for improved overall production when including an oilseed or cellulosic crop in their rotation. A summary of future plans for 2011 can be found on page 92 of the final report.  Highlights of the most recent findings to date include:

Regions 1 and 2: High, Intermediate and Low Rainfall Zones of Eastern Washington

  • Spring canola as a viable alternative crop in rotation with winter wheat. Results from winter and spring canola in three-year crop rotations at WSU Cook Agronomy Farm (CAF) from 2001-2009 show that spring canola, with an average yield of 1900 lbs/acre, performed more consistently than winter canola, which had minimal to no stand establishment due primarily to weather conditions at planting or during the winter. Yield of broadcast spring canola was similar to no-till, indicating the potential of early spring seeding into winter wheat residue. Preliminary economic analysis show that spring canola compares favorably with other alternative spring crops with returns over variable costs greater than either peas or barley at CAF.
  • Rotational benefits for wheat production. Numerous producers in eastern Washington have observed increased wheat yield following an oilseed crop in rotation. Data from a study with eight different spring crops grown before winter wheat suggest that growers may be able to assign rotational benefits to oilseed crops due to increased productivity of winter wheat and reduced N fertilizer costs to obtain those yields. Also, use of herbicide resistant canola provides greater weed control throughout the entire rotation.
  • Overcoming herbicide carryover. In the high rainfall, annual cropping zone, Group 2 residual herbicides continue to pose a major constraint to producing oilseed crops, particularly canola and camelina. One mutant population has been identified in camelina that shows resistance to all Group 2 herbicides tested, and is being bred for release to breeders. This is a valuable finding for adoption of camelina as a rotation crop in this region, and possibly lower rainfall areas.
  • Three-for-one  forage + oil + meal crop.  It is well recognized that winter canola can be grown as a biennial crop (one planting, two seasons). Initial research efforts to determine if biennial canola can be successful in eastern Washington were met by a 50 year freeze in fall 2009 that resulted in extensive winterkill of most of 34 winter canola varieties planted. However, it was evident that July plantings fared better than June in the low to intermediate rainfall zones, with up to 23% survival for July-planted versus no survival in June-planted trials. The same trial seeded in 2010 has a much higher overall survival rate, with the same pattern of better success in July than June plantings. An additional biennial canola study on 17 acres near Pullman examining interseeded winter canola and spring peas as a potential source of forage shows promising results. Plants swathed and ensiled late summer 2010 appear acceptable to cattle, and nitrate-N concentration was reduced 80% by ensilage. In vitro and in situ studies are currently underway to determine the feeding value of the silage in dairy cattle. Plant regrowth after swathing has thus far survived the winter, with prospects of producing grain in 2011 which would yield oil for fuel and meal for animal feed, thereby completing the trifecta from a single crop planting.
  •  Refining fertilizer recommendations. Current fertility guides for canola are based on nitrogen (N) recommendations for winter wheat. Eighty percent of maximum spring canola yield was achieved with no N fertilizer in a continuing study of canola fertility requirements. In addition, low N rates with or without sulfur yielded comparably to high N rates with sulfur. Data from four site-years are indicating that fertility recommendations for canola in Washington state will likely be modified to reflect these results. Reducing N fertilizer recommendations positively influences the economic prospects for canola production, and should also increase the net energy returns that are calculated through life cycle analysis.
  • Increasing canola adoption. In north central Washington, winter canola seeded mid-August survived harsh winter conditions better than late-August plantings. Winter canola acreage has increased ten-fold in Lincoln and Douglas Counties from 200 acres in 2007 to 2000 acres in 2010 as a result of concerted efforts by USDA-ARS and WSU research and extension, and in connection with the Colville Confederated Tribes.
  • Improving grain harvest efficiency. The use of a pod-sealant on research plots and the surrounding field in Douglas County proved invaluable at harvest when 40+ mph winds would have resulted in substantial loss of the mature canola crop.
  • Improving stand establishment.  Winter canola stand establishment and yield were similar in 2010 with or without shovels on the drill to move hot, dry soil out of the furrow at planting at 1500’ elevation in Douglas Co.
  • Increase row spacing, reduce costs. A row spacing study at Pullman with spring canola showed similar yield regardless of row spacing (11” vs. 22”). Future implications are that wide rows could reduce seed, machine and fuel costs while maintaining yield equal to that of standard narrow row spacing. Seed yield was lower in 2010 (730 lb/acre) than in 2008 (1600 lb/acre).
  • Camelina shows promise.  Camelina stand establishment and yield was highest with direct-drilling in early March, and lowest with a broadcast plus harrow seeding in mid-March. While no significant yield differences were observed between 18 camelina cultivars, ‘Calena’ was the top performer. Yield potential in the low to intermediate rainfall zone is estimated at 1000 lb/acre. A consistent ratio of barley to camelina yield indicates an historic barley performance may be a good indicator of camelina yield potential.
  • Increase seed size to increase yield potential. Establishment of camelina and canola can be difficult in both deep-furrow planting and direct seed systems due primarily to the small seed size. Research has identified a mutation that may result in a doubling of seed size in camelina. With larger seed size, stand establishment can be improved, and seed loss from combine reduced, resulting in increased yield potential.

Region 3: Irrigated Central Washington

  • Safflower shows promise. Average yield of irrigated safflower at Prosser was 3100 kg/ha in 2010. Highest seed yield, oil yield and water use efficiency was obtained at 70% ET and with 112 kg N/ha. An on-farm large scale cropping systems experiment near Ritzville will provide data from dryland safflower production potential.
  • Nitrogen fertilizer requirements and use. Soil NO3-N measurements taken to 90-cm depth in irrigated winter canola plots suggest a difference in plant uptake by different varieties. An overall trend was of increasing N at 30-60 cm and 60-90 cm depths with increasing N rate, indicating that the canola was not as efficient at using N at the higher rates.  Data from 2008-2009 show rates higher than 100 lbs/A are in excess of the optimum crop yield.
  • Identifying pathogens. Soil collected from irrigated cropland tested positive for Rhizoctionia populations, particularly AG2-1 (R.solani), which is highly pathogenic to canola and could also pose a risk to camelina. Other Rhizoctionia groups tested also caused damage to canola and camelina, most commonly root rot, damping off and stunting. Greenbridge control appears to be the best strategy in minimizing damage, and a producer could also perform a bioassay from the field where an oilseed will be planted.
  • Cellulosic forage. Irrigated switchgrass production at Prosser favors lowland types, and has been successful to date, which is surprising at the high (46°N) latitude of the research station. As future production increases and feedstock is delivered to biorefiners, it will be imperative to know the best management practices (BMPs) for long term storage of switchgrass bales. After the 2011 harvests we will have three years of data available to determine those BMPs.

Region 4: Western Washington

  • Research at Puyallup focused on the use of biosolids for organic fertilizer on certified organic land. Winter canola had fair stand establishment, but weed cover quickly surpassed canola plants in the spring and the study was discontinued. Spring canola, rape, mustard and camelina had excellent stand establishment and weed suppression without the use of herbicides. Canola and rapeseed yielded significantly higher than mustard and camelina. At Mt. Vernon, mustard had higher yields than camelina; yield did not change significantly with fertilizer or seeding rate for either crop.

Overall Project

  •  Oilseed samples submitted for analysis by WSU researchers nearly doubled in two years to 700 samples in 2010.  Correlating crop yield and oil analyses by agroclimatic zones will allow more site-specific crop recommendations for maximum potential seed and oil production.
  • Outreach and extension efforts expanded again in 2010, with attendance exceeding 1580 at eighteen events, including the following:
    • oilseed research plots featured at eight field days
    • poster presentations by WSU and USDA-ARS personnel at three conferences
    • experienced oilseed growers and university researchers speaking at several local farmer breakfast and luncheon meetings
    • WSU and USDA-ARS hosting and presenting a summary of the WBCS project to the Washington Canola and Rapeseed Commission.
  • There were almost 400 hits on the Biofuels website, two-thirds of which came from 36 cities in Washington.
  • Multi-agency collaboration continued with the Confederated Colville Tribes, with USDA-ARS and WSU most recently assisting the CCT in organizing a budget for the startup of their crushing/processing plant, advising them on planting canola on tribal land, and procuring field equipment for needed operations.
  • The first set of case studies about oilseed producers in the four production regions of Washington is pending final editing and publication as an Extension manual and the remaining three sets are in progress. The WBCS research team also has an Extension bulletin (switchgrass production) and a fact sheet (canola growth, development and fertility) pending publication.

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