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Carinata: A Promising Winter Crop in the Southeast U.S.

June 6, 2024 - Thiago Lima, AFM
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Image: Carinata crop in North Florida, March 2024.

Wind and solar energy get significant attention as key renewable energy sources as the country diversifies from fossil fuels. Just as significant is the biofuels sector, where ongoing plant breeding research aims to increase yield and enhance production sustainability for biofuel feedstock.

The long growing season and abundant water availability in the Southeast position the region for successful double cropping. Over the past few years, I've been tracking the development of cool-season brassicas in different regions of the southern United States as an effort to introduce a profitable new cash crop that can enhance double cropping practices. Among these crops, carinata (Brassica carinata) shows significant promise as an alternative to traditional winter crops like wheat.

Carinata fits well into existing cropping systems, providing an opportunity to utilize winter fallow land without displacing food crops. This adaptability allows it to be integrated into crop rotations, protecting the soil from erosion and nutrient loss, enhancing soil health, and reducing pest pressures without competing for prime agricultural land used for food production. Carinata is planted in the fall and harvested by mid-spring, making it a nice complement to summer cash crops like peanuts or cotton.

Carinata is a non-edible oilseed found in the Brassicaceae family along with cabbage, broccoli, turnip, and canola. Its high oil content makes it one of the highest yielding crops in terms of gallons of biofuel produced per acre while also requiring significantly less water than traditional oilseeds like soybeans. Carinata oil can be refined into jet fuel without requiring engine modifications, making it a drop-in solution for the aviation industry‚Äč‚Äč. This means that SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuels) derived from carinata can seamlessly replace or blend with conventional jet fuel, reducing the carbon footprint of air travel without necessitating changes to current infrastructure or aircraft engines.

Carinata is non-edible for humans due to its high levels of erucic acid that can pose significant health risks when consumed in large amounts. After the oil is extracted, the resulting protein-packed product is utilized as animal feed, provided its erucic acid content is carefully managed and reduced to safe levels. Research indicates that carinata meal can support average daily gains in beef and dairy cattle comparable to traditional feeds like soybean meal. This dual-purpose use enhances its economic viability even further.

Image: Carinata harvest in north Florida, May 2024.

Machinery Compatibility
Carinata requires minimal modifications to existing farming machinery, making it an accessible crop for many farmers. It can be planted using a grain drill or planter and directly harvested with a combine set up for small grains, eliminating the need for swathing. This ease of integration into existing farming systems is a significant advantage for growers.

Future Prospects: Is Carinata Here to Stay?
While carinata shows great promise, it is not the first biofuel crop to emerge with high expectations. Continued research and development will be crucial to optimize cultivation practices and enhance its viability. Despite being currently grown on a relatively small scale, carinata's potential to revolutionize biofuel production in the southeast United States is significant. Its role as a winter cover crop, ease of integration into existing farming systems, and economic and environmental benefits position it as a crop worth watching.

Peoples Company is present in the southeast with staff in place to provide full boots on the ground management services. Those interested in learning more about Peoples Company Land Management are encouraged to contact Peoples Company at 515.222.1347 or LandManagement@PeoplesCompany.com.

Published in: Land Management