Castor an Oilseed CropThat Can Cure, Kill You
by Harry Cline (Western Farm Press) Castor beans are back in California as a possible source crop for making biofuels; Castor’s main toxic protein, ricin, is so potent that a single milligram is sufficient to kill an adult; Castor oil is essential to the global specialty chemical industry because it is the only commercial source of hydroxylated fatty acids. Castor history, Major castor role pending, Castor in California
The latest entry into the California derby to find a profitable biofuel crop is one that can kill you, cure all that ails you and get you tossed into jail as a terrorist, if found in your possession.
It was featured in an article in the University California’sCalifornia Agriculture magazine as a potential new crop for California agriculture — in 1949.
You guessed it. Castor beans are back in California, at least as the latest research crop that University of California, Davis Cooperative Extension biofuels guru Steve Kaffka is looking at as a possible source crop for making biofuels.
Kaffka, is the director of the California Biomass Collaborative, a statewide assembly of government, industry, environmental groups and educational institutions administered for the state through UC Davis’ Energy Institute.
He is field testing a passel of potential biofuel crops: canola, camelina, meadowfoam, sugar beets, sweet sorghum, sugar cane, and switchgrass among others. Castor is the latest. It is the only one where there is “Do Not Cross” yellow tape circling the experimental plots.
…However, castor oil and other processed products made from castor beans contain very little ricin or RCA.
Plant breeders have also have taken the vast majority of ricin out of newer castor varieties using biotech DNA market technology. However, it can be a problematic crop to grow and harvest, thus the precautions taken in Kaffka’s trials.
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. About $100 million worth of castor is imported into the U.S.
…Texas has taken up the castor call once again, and Kaffka is following on the recent research in Texas where researchers and growers there have found castor to be drought tolerant and reportedly salt tolerant.
Kaffka has trials in the San Joaquin Valley, Salinas, Imperial Valley and at UC Davis to verify that Texas work.
…“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 Calvin Trostle, associate professor and research scientist at Texas A&M AgriLife in Lubbock.
…Some people have suggested that all this concern over ricin levels in castor is much ado about nothing; that it’s been grown in the past in the U.S. and nobody died from it. Trostle notes that he has not found in the literature any instance of someone getting sick or dying from handling castor. Still, he believes it is best to err on the side of caution in this instance. That would include strict guidelines for planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, selling and storing castor. READ MORE