Canola: A full-circle food and fuel crop
Posted: September 4, 2012
On Monday July 16th, members of Central Susquehanna Valley Organic Crop Growers Network visited Josh Leidhecker, owner of Susquehanna Mills, at his oilseed press in Montoursville. Josh’s interest in growing canola started after his discovery of how much cheaper it is to use biofuels in vehicles compared to regular fuel. Coming from a mechanical background, he lit up when his experimenting with alternative fuels actually worked. Through a simple refining process, Josh was taking the used vegetable frying oil from restaurants and converting it into fuel he could use in his vehicles. And, he was saving about 95% in fuel costs in just one year! But Josh didn’t want to stop there. He then was curious to know the steps this recycled vegetable oil took to go from farm to table back to farm as fuel. He was specifically interested in canola because of its exceptionally high oil yields.
Leidhecker grows some of his own canola and also purchases canola from local farmers. The harvested seed is dried and then cleaned through a 2-screen cleaner. Then the seed is moved into the mill which has the capacity to hold up to 6,500 pounds. In the mill, the seeds are mechanically pressed, generating the raw oil and a by-product, canola meal.
The oil is filtered in a pressing machine to remove the remaining sediment and then the oil is refined at low temperatures to remove polar compounds such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and chlorophyll.
Josh produces close to 250 gallons of oil a day, which is the equivalent of about a whole pallet of packaged oil. He sells the oil to local restaurants and companies such as Tait Farms who uses it in their salad dressings and FreshaPeel Hummus who uses it in their hummus. He supplies to local universities including Penn State and has also found a market for selling the leftover meal for animal feed.
The last stage in the full-circle crop occurs when Leidhecker recovers a portion of the fryer-oil sold to restaurants and then processes it into biodiesel. The biodiesel is then used as a tractor fuel by the farmers who grow canola for the mill.
By growing canola locally, pressing it at the mill, selling a food-grade oil which can be repurposed for biodiesel fuel to grow more canola, Leidhecker is cutting through the food vs. fuel debate to demonstrate a solution that meets all our needs. And in the process he burns less fossil fuels, saves time in completing round trips, and most importantly, saves money.
By Sydney Laudenslager, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department