Buried in Program seeks to improve honeybee health, an article in the Morris Sun Tribune, there's this tidbit about a diverse crop that offers farmers a chance to help pollinators, soil and their bottomline,as well as that of a Minnesota-based company:
One alternative oilseed crops that can provide both nutrition and economic value is cuphea.
Cuphea flowers from August to mid-September, which provides food for bees late into the season when fewer native plants are flowering. It’s also popular with a range of native pollinators, said Carrie Eberle, post-doctoral research agronomist.Cuphea is also a potential ingredient in a new line of shampoo from Aveda – the company is already contracting with Minnesota farmers to grow the crop, said Forcella.
“We would recommend that a farmer not only plant something that’s valuable for pollinators but also plant something that can make money for them – cuphea is one of those at the moment,” said Forcella.
Use of alternative and cover crops in rotation--and developing value-added industries to use their harvest--has been posited as a potentially profitable way to fight superweeds that have evolved in response to use of post-emergence herbicides. Read more about research on teaming perennial and winter-annual crops with summer annuals like corn and soybeans here, from January's hearing about superweeds in the Minnesota House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.
Not rocket science but jet fuel
The USDA Agricultural Research Service News has more about research at the ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minnesota, in the 2008 archived article, A Cornucopia of Domestic Energy Crops:
Cuphea is a genus of flowering plants that yield a type of oil similar to palm kernel and coconut oils. These oils, which are produced commercially only in the Tropics, contain the capric, lauric, and other medium-chain-length fatty acids needed to make soaps, cosmetics, motor oils and other industrial lubricants, and hydraulic fluids. At present, Cuphea is one of the only sources of these valuable tropical-style oils that can be grown in the continental United States.
Since 1999, plant physiologist Russ Gesch and colleagues at the ARSNorth Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minnesota, have studied Cuphea, working hand-in-hand with Terry Isbell and colleagues at the ARS New Crops and Processing Technology Research Unit in Peoria, Illinois. The ARS scientists also work closely with farmers, universities, and industry, including the Procter & Gamble Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, which uses medium-chain-length fatty acids in some of their products, such as laundry detergent. Isbell works with a plant breeder at Western Illinois University at Macomb to find lines more suitable for processing. . . .
In addition to its industrial usefulness, Cuphea can serve as an alternative to soy, sunflower, or canola as a biofuel source. ARS scientists are working with the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks and several industry collaborators from around the country to develop a process that can convert crop oils such as Cuphea oil into jet fuel. This extensive project is being funded by the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense. . . .
. . . Gesch and his colleagues at Morris handle ways to grow the crops profitably, while Isbell and his colleagues at Peoria handle the crops’ processing into industrial products. The Peoria unit has a pilot commercial-scale plant that has processed barrels of oil from camelina, canola, Cuphea, lesquerella, milkweed, mustard greens (Brassica juncea),pennycress, soybean, and sunflower. Isbell also works with coriander and meadowfoam.
These alternative crops not only help provide new sources of farm income and provide new ways to control pests, but could also help reduce our reliance on imported oils. The United States buys about $1.5 billion worth of palm and coconut oils each year to meet half of its industrial needs for medium-chain-length fatty acids; the rest comes from petroleum . . .
It's wonderful to see how agronomists and other scientists are working on applied research that has the potential to lend a hand for several systemic problems: pollinator woes, wind erosion of the soil, water quality, weed control and diverse sources for farm income.
Funding quality ag research isn't a luxury; it's an investment for one of Minnesota's largest economic sectors where we can do better.
Photo: Better life through chemistry as Bliss Philips extracts oil from Cuphea seeds. Think of the bees! Via USDA ARS News.
If you enjoyed reading this post, consider giving a donation via mail (P.O. Box 108, Maynard MN 56260) or paypal: