What is in this article?:
- Bio-science addresses concerns over castor crop
- It comes down to the oil
- The role of bio-science in modern castor production
- Growing castor on U.S. soil and extracting castor oil for biofuels and industrial use is a growing controversy with supporters on both sides of the question: Would the benefits outweigh the risks?
- Since castor grows well on marginal land, it represents an alternative crop suitable for production in select areas of Texas.
- On the other hand, castor production comes with a reputation, largely related to the fear of growing a potentially toxic crop.
DR. NATALIA CASTILLO (Texas AgriLife Research, Lubbock), Dr. Mike Foster (Texas AgriLife Research, Pecos, retired), Dr. Calvin Trostle (Texas AgriLife Extension, Lubbock) are shown in a castor research plot.
It comes down to the oil
The oil produced by castor is essential to the global specialty chemical industry because it is the only commercial source of hydroxylated fatty acids. It is used by industry for a number of applications and the demand for the oil is high. In addition, there may be no better crop to use than castor to produce bio-fuels, making the product an ideal option to reduce dependency on petroleum.
“With castor seed producing as much as 50 percent oil and its ability to grow productively on marginal land, it represents a crop that could address a growing demand for castor oil. India virtually controls the global market now, and there is potential for domestic production,” reports Dr. Calvin Trostle, associate professor and research scientist at Texas A&M AgriLife in Lubbock.
“Castor production will play a major role for many years to come,” agrees Dr. Dick Auld, oilseed crop specialist and research scientist at Texas Tech University. “At one time some 70,000 acres in Texas were dedicated to castor farming. But when prices fell in the 1970s interest faded, and concerns over ricin and the potential for contamination of food crops overshadowed interest for its return.”
With a federal mandate to ramp up production of bio-fuels in the years ahead, Trostle and Auld agree there is a growing interest in domestic oilseed production, including castor.