Energy farmer

Larry Beck


Once a familiar name in the Truckee Meadows, particularly when he served as a Washoe county commissioner (1987-1995), Larry Beck is now a farmer in Humboldt County.

What are you growing up there?

We’re growing camelina. It’s an oil seed, and the oil seed of choice for biofuel.

What do you use it for?

It’s got several products that come out of it. The seed has 40 percent oil, and the oil has high concentrations of omega-3, vitamin E, omega-6, VHA. Very good cattle feed. It’s very high protein cattle feed, about 40 percent protein. That’s on the meal side after you extract the oil. Then there’s one of the prime—it’s just been approved by the FDA—to be fed to poultry and egg layers as well as cattle, because it introduce omega-3 into the meat. … But the primary use of camelina oil is for biodiesel. It’s the biodiesel of choice because there’s so much oil in the seed, and it takes such little refining to make it into biodiesel. Forty percent of the seed is oil. You can get about 2,000-2,500 pounds to the acre, and we’ve proved that in Nevada. We were the first entity to ever grow camelina under cultivation in the United States, the first entity to ever grow camelina in Nevada, and we’ve been very successful at it.

Why northern Humboldt County?

Well, this is my home state. I used to be county commissioner here [Washoe County], and I’ve been in renewable energy for the last 25 years, and it made a lot of sense. In Northern Nevada, we’ve got arid climate. Camelina uses less than 9 inches of water, alfalfa uses 48 inches of water. We have a lot of open spaces in which this will grow. It’s very tolerant of salt. It grows very aggressive, and we’ve already shown that it’s a very economical crop for Nevada.

I guess I was asking, as opposed to say, Douglas County or Churchill County, why northern Humboldt?

Well, I started in northern Humboldt because that’s where I grew up as a kid. I was familiar with the ground, and I had a lot of friends up there who are farmers.

And how’d you get into this particular crop?

Well, I first started off growing switchgrass [a crop used in several bioenergy conversion processes]. I was the first one to grow switchgrass in the state of Nevada under cultivation, one of the first that ever grew switchgrass under cultivation in the United States. We grew switchgrass, and we proved that switchgrass would grow in this state, and we were getting around 10 tons to the acre of switchgrass back when they were looking at switchgrass being used for cellulosic ethanol. … [Earlier] I worked at the geothermal plant south of town [Reno], vice president of administration and new project development for Far West Capital.

How did you get from geothermal into this?

I’m very interested in renewable energy. I believe that’s one of the best ways for us to go. We have 87 percent of the state of Nevada is owned by federal government, either through BLM [Bureau of Land Management] or the Forest Service. If we can have a sustainable crop that will grow in Nevada, it opens a lot of doors to solve a lot of our economic problems in this state. It expands our farming operation, and it also expands our ability to produce a biofuel that will address our energy needs.