I’m not a farmer, which may explain why I was blown away by one statistic from Jeff Oestermann, business development manager of Cargill, who told us that 16 to 18% of the US corn (that’s maize to me) crop is used to make ethanol.
I’m not a farmer, which may explain why I got slightly depressed during Mahon Brennan’s presentation on oil seed rape. At one point he seemed to me to be suggesting that we plant Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals with the stuff. Its bright yellow and it smells. Sorry, it’s the townie in me. I have to say it.
Brennan, an engaging speaker, did go on to explain that because rape is closely related to the weeds which compete with it that it is not a good idea to grow it too often. Otherwise what ever margin rapeseed gives you will be eaten up in crop protection products. If you want to run your UK farm for biofuels, he suggested to me you might want to grow two crops of wheat and then one of rape.
Refining seeds is a pretty tough job. Brennan told me that rape started off at about five feet (1.3m) high and had been successfully shrunk to make it more resistant to the wind. (You can’t combine harvest a crop that is flat to the ground because its blown over). Call me an optimist if you like but I’d hope the shorter variety would put its effort into growing bigger, oilier seeds. Not so there was a bonsai effect where the seeds stayed in proportion to the size of the plant.
But Brennan sees a bright future for the crop in Europe. A lot of his enthusiasm comes from the youth of the crop. Wheat has been farmed for about 5000 years, and has been pretty well optimised. Oilseed rape, though is about 100 years old and we’ve got tools to modify seeds, which weren’t available 5000 years ago.
The 2006 European Biofuels Forum is being held in Warsaw, Poland from 20-21 November and is organised by the World Refining Association.