POWELL, Wyo. - A Denver company hopes to talk Bighorn Basin farmers into growing canola for use in biodiesel.
Blue Sun Biodiesel hopes to eventually see at least 22,000 acres of canola grown in the region between Riverton and the Montana line.
Ryan Lafferty, a Blue Sun researcher, said that would support a small seed-crushing facility in the area, which would in turn help make canola a viable crop in the region.
"This next year, we just want to get our foot in the door. But we also want to see enough interest that we can get a lot of acres up here in the long run," Lafferty said.
About 100 people, including several farmers, attended an informational meeting hosted by Blue Sun on Monday.
Farmers in the crowd had as many questions about the global oil market as they did on how best to grow canola. Some worried that an end to federal tax credits for biodiesel might wreck the canola market.
Others feared having to compete with giant corporate soybean growers in the Midwest. And some were concerned that a return of cheap oil could end the biodiesel market.
Lafferty said canola prices typically followed soybean prices, which follow oil prices.
He said canola growers in Colorado's San Luis Valley have had good results.
"The growers there that did sign up for canola were excited about it because they were looking for something new," he said. "And it's been a good fit."
He said Blue Sun hoped to contract with growers to buy canola at 11 cents per pound, assuming a 40 percent oil content for the crop. San Luis Valley farmers, he said, have averaged 42 percent, but the Big Horn Basin's cooler weather could cause canola there to exceed that.
Farmer Dick Moore said he was interested in finding a good crop to rotate with sugar beets and malt barley. He was skeptical, however, that canola could be as profitable. He said a strong canola crop would barely compete with barley, even in a year with low barley prices.
But he said he'd made up his mind to use biodiesel.
"I'm all for the bio," he said. "We're going to put in a 10,000-gallon tank of it as soon as we can."
He said prices weren't the reason - they're about the same as for regular diesel fuel. He said using biodiesel means supporting farmers and reducing oil imports.