Vegetable plastic firm to test low-ricin castor bean in Texas

Castagra, a Canadian bioproducts company, has made an agreement with Texas AgriLife Research, part of the Texas A&M University System, to test production of a new castor bean with less ricin.

Key Points

Castagra and Texas A&M agree to work with new castor bean.

Vegetable plastic is used for moldings, concrete and tank protection.

Texas and the U.S. should be able to compete with India in castor.

The West Texas project will investigate production potential and sustainable production practices that do not conflict with other commodities grown in the state, according to officials.

Castagra specializes in the use of vegetable plastic for construction, oil and gas services industries, where its plastic is used for moldings, concrete and tank protection.

Castor beans not new to Texas

Castor oil and gypsum are the two main ingredients in vegetable plastic, and castor beans were farmed in Texas back in the 1970s. About 3 acres of low-ricin Brigham castor will be seeded at the AgriLife Research Station in Pecos.

The seed produced will be used for crushing and processing trials to determine yield and quality, with the remainder dedicated to potential 2012 castor production as planting seed.

AgriLife Research and its partner agency, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, will evaluate improved best management practices to ensure sustainable agronomic yields and that production can be compatible with other commodity crops.

New deal

Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension program leader and associate department for soil and crop sciences at Texas A&M University, College Station, says castor previously had a bad reputation because of its potential to contaminate grain crops.

“However, new low-ricin varieties and improved agronomic practices prevent volunteer stands and escapes, and isolated production areas,” he says. “Vertically integrated, production-processing systems can make castor an acceptable alternative crop for producers in certain areas of Texas.”

“We are pleased to be continuing Castagra’s work with the Texas A&M System,” says Castagra’s Canadian CEO Peter Roosen.

“By using castor grown domestically for our veggie-plastic products used in the construction and coatings industries, we are creating jobs and bringing jobs to America that moved offshore several years ago when the castor production was discontinued in Texas in the 1970s.

“AgriLife [Research] has done excellent work recently in improving oil yields, while greatly reducing the amount of ricin toxin found in castor beans by as much as 90%,” Roosen says.

Salt tolerance, drought resistance

David Baltensperger, professor and head of the department of soil and crop sciences at Texas A&M, says new castor varieties have increased salt tolerance and are more drought-resistant, “so lands in the Pecos area may once again become productive.

“Additionally, castor can now be fully mechanized unlike in other castor-producing countries, such that we can now effectively compete against countries like India that export millions of tons of castor oil each year to other countries, including the U.S.,” Baltensperger says.

Calvin Trostle and Dick Auld, scientists based at the AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Lubbock, will supervise the project.

Fannin is with Texas A&M Agriculture Communications, College Station.


WORK WITH CASTOR: Calvin Trostle, Texas AgriLife Research scientist at Lubbock, will be among the scientists working to test a new castor bean with less ricin. Trostle will be one of the supervisors of the project for the specialty crop that has many uses.

This article published in the August, 2011 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.