Opportunity knocks for area farmers

Published 12:26 am Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Mannings (from left) — Trey, Angela and Neil — check their rapeseed-production field at Manning Farms in Pantego. Buster Manning will plant 62 acres of HEAR in a side-by-side test with wheat this year. (Contributed Photo/Manning Farms)

An opportunity for farmers to grow a different crop is coming to eastern North Carolina.

High-erucic-acid rapeseed is a form of rapeseed with many uses in the marketplace. A derivative of the oil extracted from the seed is used in the manufacture of virtually every plastic bag. Oil from the HEAR seed also is used in the manufacture of polymers, petroleum additives, pharmaceuticals, foods and personal-care products. With high demand globally, North Carolina could become the nation’s largest producer of the lucrative crop.

“It is a brand new crop opportunity for eastern North Carolina,” said Chris Reberg-Horton, an organic cropping specialist with the Department of Crop Science at North Carolina State University. “Technology Crops is interested in contracting 20,000 acres, I believe, but you would need to verify that figure with them. It is also very similar to canola. I have conducted trials with both, and NCSU has been conducting other canola work for years.

“Our basic conclusion is that it grows well here and fits nicely into our rotation. It is planted in September and October, which fits after corn harvest. It is generally ready to be harvested about a week before wheat the next spring. That helps get a double crop of soybeans in the field after harvest.”

Andrew Hebard is the president and CEO of Winston-Salem-based Technology Crops International. Official information describes the company as “a global leader in the development, commercialization and delivery of new and high-value crop oils from specialty oilseed and botanical crops such as high oleic sunflower, high erucic acid rapeseed, meadowfoam, cuphea, lesquerella, bog myrtle and echium.”

“It is not really destined for vehicles because it is a premium product over and above canola prices,” Hebard said. “It typically has values of about 25 percent over canola. This means it is not suitable as a feedstock for fuel manufacture. It makes it much more suitable as higher-value ingredient for synthesis processes.”

Hebard said that North America and Europe are the two largest consumers of HEAR. He also mentioned that HEAR can be found in the UK, Germany, France and Holland.

Hebard spoke about how much money HEAR could generate in North Carolina.

“It is the demand area for growing the crop. That is where we are trying to encourage farmers to grow the crop, and make North Carolina the largest production region of rapeseed in North America. First of all, it generates at the farm level about 100 dollars per acre more profit than wheat. If you put that in dollars-per-acre total revenue, we would be looking at probably 650 dollars per acre of revenue,” he said. “As well as the oil value, we are producing a very high-value protein byproduct. When we crush the seeds, we get oil, and we get meal. The meal is going to the poultry industry here. It is bringing protein to the state here.

Currently, North Carolina is a deficient protein state. It needs to bring its soybean meal from other regions. This is another added value for growing it here.”

Buster Manning, owner of Pantego-based Manning Farms, is interested in growing HEAR.

“Obviously we always are looking at alternative or new crops,” Manning said. “Everything you look at does not always work. This one looks like it has potential. The contract prices that Technology Crops International is offering are fairly attractive. The yield is unknown. They had a test in North Carolina last year. I do not think they had much in this area. It is all going to depend on the yield, but we think it is worth the time.”

Manning will plant 62 acres of HEAR. It will work as a side-by-side test with wheat. It is replacing wheat in the area where it will be grown. Manning Farms will grow about 800 acres of wheat this year.

Manning said that it is possible that other farmers in Pantego will try out the crop, which will be processed locally.