In Uruguay, Brassica carinata – an excellent raw material for the sustainable production of biofuels – is fast becoming an interesting new complementary for local agriculture.
Nowadays, only 30% of the agricultural land is in productive use during winter time in Uruguay. For farmers Brassica carinata yields extra income as an excellent option for winter crop seeding.
“Soy is our main summer crop but in winter, we have just few options for cultivation like rapeseed, wheat and barley. To increase annual yields, carinata is becoming an important option for crop rotation outside the main agricultural production season,” confirms Martín Benia, agricultural engineer and a partner in the AGROSANDÚ Consultancy.
Benia adds that winter cultivation has several advantages. “Under local law, the fields always have to be covered. If farmers are not seeding a harvestable crop during winter, they have to at least seed a cover crop to protect the soil from erosion caused mainly by rain. This is important for the ecosystem, but without any profitable harvest, it is an additional cost for producers.”
Transparent market price
Farmers in Uruguay have begun cultivating carinata under contract with UPM. “UPM provides the seeds to the farmers, buys the entire harvest, and sells it all in the international market so everything is handled through UPM,” Benia tells.
“In addition, the price is transparent as it is adjusted in line with an international market price index. When a farmer sows a crop, he knows the approximate costs in advance. With a clear grain price, they will be able to better foresee the return on their investment.”
This is among the reasons why farmers have accepted carinata so enthusiastically. “We have achieved interesting economic results by investing roughly the same sum as we do in conventional winter crops,” Benia confirms.
Good crop management
Another argument in favour of carinata is the RSB certification system (The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials).
“The RSB promotes the best agricultural practices and sustainable operations. It lays down several obligations and some specific norms, but many requirements are already included in the current regulations,” explains Benia.
As part of the requirements, farmers must show relevant land ownership or rental papers, as well as present a plan for the use and management of the land. In addition, they have had to start their farming operations before January 2008.
In the certification process, an auditing company carries out the auditing process and verifies the information provided by the farmer, and the results are reported to UPM.
Benia says that as carinata is a new crop, people normally take their time evaluating and considering this option carefully. Local farmers have nevertheless shown great interest in joining the program.
“For us this is the third year of cultivating this crop, and we will definitely keep accumulating information together with local producers, the research institute INIA (Instituto National de Investigación Agropecuaria), the Faculty of Agronomy in the university and UPM, but also the international community,” notes Benia.
“We believe that carinata is a good option for winter cultivation. We expect it to gain popularity and become an established winter crop in Uruguay.”
UPM is developing the project together with the faculty of Agronomy and INIA. “We have been working together with UPM for around five years testing and evaluating the crop in different locations across Uruguay,” explains Marina Castro, Senior Researcher from the INIA.
“For example, we have tried different planting seasons in early May and as late as July. Our experience indicates that the early planting season gives the best results, as the later one reduces production by almost 50%.”
The harvesting season will be in November and sometimes at the beginning of December, so it makes a perfect match with soy. In addition, the advantage of carinata is that it is harvestable in one operation.
“Therefore, the loss of grain is minor when compared to canola, for example, which requires sometimes two harvesting operations. In addition, also the yield seems to be higher than that of canola, at least in our experiments,” Castro confirms.
Additional income for farmers
The most popular winter crops in Uruguay are currently wheat and barley, and now canola. “Farmers that are used to cultivating in winter do not need to make any additional special investments because the cultivation of carinata is similar to canola,” Castro explains.
In addition, carinata produces a lot of biomass, so it useful for preventing erosion and improving soil. It requires no changes in the land use.
Due to high costs, Castro points out that the profitability of agriculture depends on the total yield generated throughout the whole year. “Carinata thus generates additional income for local farmers who do not normally use their fields for production during the winter and they are waiting for the summer cultivation.”
“The weather has been very difficult during the last few years in Uruguay. Also, with international prices decreasing, farmers are looking for alternative crops. Many farmers that have tried carinata are expanding the crop acreage because it shows local potential and is obviously profitable as well,” concludes Castro.
Brassica carinata secondary cropping is a new type of biofuel feedstock concept
Brassica carinata is an oilseed crop specially designed for the sustainable production of biofuels. The oil from the crop is non-edible.
“Brassica carinata seed contains a lot of oil that makes it an excellent raw material for renewable biofuel production. The rest of the seed can be used for producing flours and proteins for animal feed,” explains Pieter Boutmy, Development Coordinator at UPM.
Last year, carinata crops totalled 7,200 hectares of farming land in Uruguay. “Year after year we are receiving good feedback from farmers testing the crop. Now we are increasing the commercial acreage in collaboration with local farmers. All areas are cultivated by local contracted farmers,” Boutmy explains.
UPM has a supporting technical team to help farmers who are keen to start cultivation of carinata. “They can send an e-mail to email@example.com, and we will explain the different forms of seeding and all the necessary documents needed.”
The cropping concept meets all possible sustainability requirements. “The sustainable use of land is an essential criterion for UPM. We are developing the secondary cropping of carinata as a new raw material for renewable biofuel production – while preserving the existing food production,” he says.
“In addition to fulfilling all the fundamental sustainability requirements of national and international legislation, we have also received RSB (Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials) certification for the operations in Uruguay.” Boutmy confirms.