Federal grants fuel Washington biodiesel initiative

By Ryan C. Christiansen | July 14, 2008
Web exclusive posted July 23, 2008 at 9:39 a.m. CST

A Snohomish County, Wash., initiative to raise and process locally grown oilseed crops for the production of biodiesel continues to move forward. The Snohomish County Farm-Grown Fuel Project, a partnership between public and private organizations, plans to establish a regional facility to produce canola oil which can be a feedstock for biodiesel. The USDA has announced that two organizations will receive more than $125,000 in federal grants to assist with the overall effort.

Under the USDA Rural Development's Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program, the Sno/Sky Agriculture Alliance has been selected to receive a $96,806 grant to develop a canola seed storage and pre-crushing processing facility in Monroe, Wash. In addition, the Seattle-based Institute for Washington's Future received a $28,650 grant to examine the feasibility of harvesting oilseed crops in the Snohomish River Valley. The institute is looking to help establish an oilseed harvesting operation in the valley, which the institute said is one of the barriers to oilseed production in the area.

According to Ryan Hembree, agricultural coordinator for the county project, the overall goal of the Snohomish County project is to harvest between 1,000 and 1,200 acres of canola annually to produce canola oil, which ultimately will be processed into biodiesel to power the Snohomish County fleet of diesel-powered vehicles. Working with the Washington State University Extension Service, a farmer's cooperative in the county has planted between 350 and 400 acres of canola this year and hopes to have 1,000 acres in production by 2010, Hembree said. So far, the county's pilot project has revealed that canola can be grown at much higher yields in the county than was anticipated.

The county has a grain dryer that can process 12 tons of grain per hour and is in the process of purchasing a seed crusher and oil press that can process 24 tons of oilseeds per day. Hembree said the grain dryer is powered by methane which is produced from an old county landfill that has been capped and is expected to produce methane for 10 more years. Hembree said the plan is to find a private party to lease the equipment from the county on a per-ton fee basis and provide processing services to the farmers. The drier will be operational in early August; the seed crusher and oil press are expected to come on line later this fall. The oil will be sold to a local biodiesel processor, Hembree said, and the county will purchase biodiesel from that processor. The processor has not been chose yet.

Snohomish County has been actively looking for ways to help farmers develop additional cash crops, Hembree said. Much of the land where canola is being grown for the project previously was fallow and Hembree adds that canola is a great crop for the area because it sets down a long tap root and breaks up the soil. Farmers who plant canola one year can see a significant increase in rotational crops, like potatoes, the next year, he said.
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