Drought reduced canola and oriental mustard yields in 2012

Despite a dry season, the potential of biodiesel production from brassica oilseeds remains promising.

Weather patterns across the Midwest had a significant effect on crop yields in 2012. Market prices record high prices as uncertainty about crop yields mounted. In Michigan, the effects of the drought were varied with some parts of the state fairing much better than others. Soils with higher water holding capacity (more clay and organic matter) tended to produce much better yields than sandy soils. Due to record high temperatures and extended periods with no rain, even irrigation was not able to keep up with evapotranspiration on light, sandy soils. Plants rolled up and wilted during the day in order to hold onto as much water as they could.

Michigan State University Extension has established a network of research plots to evaluate a variety of potential bioenergy crops. Maintaining plots in multiple locations allows assessment of crop performance at various latitudes under differing soil and climate conditions. In 2012, the oilseed crops such as canola and oriental mustard suffered significantly from drought in southern locations, but did relatively well in northern locations. In Table 1, yields from these two crops are listed by location.

Table 1. Canola and oriental mustard yields from various locations in Michigan in 2012

Harvest date

Location (county)

Crop

Moisture (%)

Yield* (lb/a)

8/20/2012

Alger

Canola

14.5%

1386

8/12/2012

Antrim

Canola

15.1%

576

7/31/2012

Isabella

Canola

9.9%

856

7/30/2012

Ottawa

Canola

14.7%

183

8/20/2012

Alger

Oriental mustard

13.6%

755

8/12/2012

Antrim

Oriental mustard

16.5%

516

7/30/2012

Cass

Oriental mustard

9.1%

50

7/31/2012

Isabella

Oriental mustard

10.4%

966

*Yield is corrected to 9 percent moisture content

Canola and oriental mustard contain high concentrations of oil in the seed – 36 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Harvested seed can be pressed to squeeze out the oil and the oil converted to biodiesel for use in diesel engines. According to MSU Extension senior bioenergy educator Dennis Pennington, these two oilseed crops hold promise for on-farm production of biodiesel. A portable biodiesel unit acquired by MSU Extension is being used to convert seed from these research plots into biodiesel on farms. The unit is assembled in an enclosed trailer and can be pulled to any farm. Hands-on demonstrations where farmers can see for themselves how to make biodiesel have greater impact than hearing about it in a meeting.

MSU Extension is working to help farmers become more energy independent. In 2011, America imported 24.491 quadrillion BTU’s of petroleum or 61 percent of total consumption. If we can show farmers how to grow these crops and convert them into fuel on their own farm, we can reduce our dependence on imported oil. The cost to grow a crop and make it into biodiesel is a few pennies more per gallon than petroleum diesel right now. As crop production and conversion processes are improved, these costs will be driven down.

More information on American energy use and biodiesel production can be found at these sites:

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