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Meadowfoam: A New Winter Oilseed Crop for Virginia

Crop and Soil Environmental News, March 1998

Harbans Bhardwaj, Agricultural Research Station, Virginia State University, Petersburg, Va.
Mike Parrish, Extension agent, Dinwiddie County Office, Dinwiddie, Va.

Meadowfoam (Limnanthes alba Bentham, Family Limnanthaceae) seeds contain long- chain fatty acids (20- and 22-carbon) which are unique due to very high levels of mono- unsaturation and very low levels of poly-unsaturation. These characteristics make meadowfoam oil very stable, even when heated or exposed to air. The uses of meadowfoam oil include personal care products such as cosmetics and toiletries as well as industrial applications including lubricants and inks. Derivatives of meadowfoam oil such as estoloides and silicone esters have potential as coatings and adhesives.

The meadowfoam evaluations at Virginia State University in Petersburg started in 1992. Seed of "Mermaid" cultivar, received from Oregon State University in 1991, were planted in a small observation plot in November. An impressive stand of meadowfoam plants was established. These plants were hand harvested in May of 1993. A similar plot for observations was again planted during 1993 and harvested during 1994. Results of these two planting indicated that meadowfoam can be produced in Virginia.

During 1994-95 season, meadowfoam was evaluated at the Randolph Farm of Virginia State University in two experiments. In the first experiment, seed of "Mermaid" were planted in 15 three-row plots with 2-feet distance between rows. A blank row separated these plots. Each row was 10-feet long and was planted with 100 seeds. The plots were randomly assigned to one of five nitrogen (N) fertilizer rates (0, 50, 100, 150, and 200 pounds N/acre) resulting in a RCBD with three replications and five N rates. In a second experiment, 3 three-row plots were planted with "Mermaid" on February 26, 1996 as observation rows (100 pounds N/acre) to determine if plants from this planting would mature. All plots matured and were harvested manually on June 6, 1996, thrashed, and cleaned before weighing. The contents of various fatty acids were determined from all samples. The average seed yield from the first experiment was 441 pounds/acre whereas the seed yield from the second experiment was 363 pounds/acre. The seed yield was affected by N rate. The highest yield of 565 pounds/acre was obtained after application of 100 pounds N/acre whereas the lowest yield of 224 pounds/acre was obtained from the control treatment. Differences for seed yield among 100, 150, and 200 pounds N/acre treatments were not significant. Application of 50 pounds N/acre resulted in seed yield of 373 pounds/acre which was significantly greater than the seed yield of control treatment. The oil content (dry weight basis) varied from 21 to 25% with a highly significant negative correlation between N rate and oil content. N rates did not affect contents of fatty acids. In the first experiment, the monounsaturated fatty acids averaged 74% whereas ployunsaturated fatty acids averaged 23%. The oil contained 93% long chain fatty acids (20- and 22-carbon).

The results from 1994-95 experiments were presented by Harbans Bhardwaj at the International Meeting of Association for the Advancement of Industrial Crops, September 22-25, 1996 at San Antonio, Texas. Based on these results, Fanning Corporation of Chicago, Illinois, expressed an interest in commercial meadowfoam production in Virginia.

During 1996-97 season, with support of Fanning Corporation, two farmers in Dinwiddie County (Alvin Blaha and Frank Zita) were contracted to produce 5 acres each of meadowfoam. These fields were planted on December 12, 1996 with a grain drill in a prepared seed bed with about 25 pounds seed per acre. The planting was conducted during December because there are indications that germinating meadowfoam likes cool and wet conditions and temperatures above 55 degrees can reduce germination and stand establishment. The germination and stand establishment in both fields were excellent. Blaha's field received about 40 pounds of N whereas Zita's field received about 60 pounds N per acre. The meadowfoam in both fields was in full bloom by May 9, 1997. Eight beehives were placed in each five-acre field. The meadowfoam started to mature during last week of May, 1997.

Both fields were combine harvested during June 9-11, 1997. The seed moisture content at harvest was 14-18 percent. It is well established that meadowfoam could be swathed at about 42 percent seed moisture. Samples taken before harvesting indicated that seed moisture content decreased from about 80 percent on May 28 to about 31 percent on June 9 indicating that meadowfoam could have been swathed about a week before combine harvesting. This observation is important since it was estimated that shattering during direct combining caused a seed loss of about 38 percent.

From each field, sample plots were harvested by hand to determine the actual seed yield. This yield level was about 408 pounds per acre. The average oil content in this crop was 26 percent with long-chain fatty acid percent of 97 percent indicating that meadowfoam produced in Virginia has desirable oil content and quality. These two farmers' field production efforts indicated that availability of a swather and a belt-pickup for combine harvesting were crucial to avoid shattering losses due to direct combining.

Additional experiments conducted at Virginia State University's Randolph Farm during 1996-97 season indicated that row spacing of 6-12 inches is suitable for meadowfoam production in Virginia. Experiments also indicated that nitrogen fertilizer up to 100 pounds N/acre was optimum.

Based on positive results from research experiments and commercial production at farmer's fields in Virginia, Oregon Meadowfoam Growers Cooperative expressed an interest in supporting commercial meadowfoam production in Virginia. Two representatives of this group visited Virginia during November, 1997 and met with Virginia farmers and representatives from Virginia Department of Agriculture, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Virginia State University, and Virginia Cooperative Extension. This meetings took place at Dinwiddie County Office of VCE and resulted in plans to attempt additional acres of meadowfoam production in Virginia. The Oregon Group indicated that they will provide the seed without cost and would sell the seed produced in Virginia at a contract price. A second meeting took place on November 25, 1997 at the Dinwiddie County Extension Office where further details of meadowfoam production were discussed and it was decided to participate with the Oregon Group in producing meadowfoam in Virginia.

Under the direction of Mike Parrish, meadowfoam was planted during the month of December, 1997 by a number of farmers in Dinwiddie County. It is expected that this effort will provide information about fertilizer rates, herbicide usage, tillage methods, harvesting techniques, etc.

The current meadowfoam production recommendations include planting with a grain drill in early December with about 25 pounds of seed per acre. The N needs of meadowfoam are minimal and approximately 30-40 pounds of N per acre are optimum. Currently, there is a complete lack of approved herbicides for weed control in meadowfoam in Virginia. However, herbicides being currently used for other crops in Virginia are suitable for weed control in meadowfoam. Efforts are underway to obtain 24(c) license for use of appropriate herbicides during 1998 in Virginia. Based on the research and production efforts in Virginia, meadowfoam generally starts to bloom in early May and matures around first week of June. Even though meadowfoam can be combined directly at about 12% moisture, this practices causes seed loss due to shattering. It may be desirable to use a swather to harvest the crop at about 42% moisture, allow it to dry, and then use a belt-pickup and a combine to thresh meadowfoam. Arrangements are being made to acquire this equipment with financial support from Virginia State University.

A field day during first week of May, 1998 is being planned for interested producers and others. This field day will be held in Dinwiddie County at a farmers' field.

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