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Labalette, F., A. Estragnat, and A. Messéan. 1996. Development of castor bean production in France. p. 340-342. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.

Development of Castor Bean Production in France

Françoise Labalette, André Estragnat, and Antoine Messéan

    1. First Phase (1986-1990)
    2. A Cooperative Research Program at the European Level
    1. Crop Establishment
    2. Crop Protection
  5. Table 1
  6. Fig. 1

Castor bean (Ricinus communis L., Euphorbiaceae) is a plant of tropical origin which produces seeds containing up to 55% of a natural oil rich in ricinoleic acid. Among all the vegetable oils, castor oil is distinctive because of its high level of ricinoleic acid (over 85%), a fatty acid consisting of 18 carbons, a double bond between the ninth and tenth position, and a hydroxyl group attached to C12. Ricinoleic acid is responsible for castor oil interest, the highest and most stable viscosity index among all the vegetable oils combined with high lubricity, especially under low temperature conditions.

Castor oil has various applications in different industrial sectors: paintings and coatings, polyurethane coating, plastics, transport, cosmetics, textiles, and leathers. One of the major products derived from castor oil is the Rilsan B, developed by Atochem (France). This 100% castor-based product has numerous applications such as rotating glass car-wipers, ski boots fixatives, and for use in air-brake systems on trucks. Many new uses, based on biodegradability of castor oil derived products, are expected in the future.

World annual production of castor oil is about 460,000 t (1.1 million tonnes of seeds); the main producers are India, Brazil, and China. The European Union uses about 90,000 t of castor oil and imports oil as well as about 30,000 t of seeds which is mainly crushed in Germany. Due to new outlets for castor oil (such as anticorrosive products or odorant captivators), European demand should increase over the next ten years.


In order to meet this demand, the French oilseed organization launched domestic production in 1986. The project, extended to Europe, has the objective of producing 100,000 t, which corresponds to about 100,000 ha.

First Phase (1986-1990)

After preliminary trials during the 1950s, and as a result of high oil prices in the middle of the 1980s ONIDOL (Organisation Interprofessionnelle des Oléagineux) launched local production. In order to adapt this perennial plant to local conditions, three research thrusts were developed: breeding of early and productive varieties (Protosemences), crop management under French conditions (CETIOM), and design of a combine harvest (CEMAGREF).

A Cooperative Research Program at the European Level

As a result of encouraging results and evolution of European policy, a demonstration project (1991-1995), partially funded by the European Union, was initiated in 1991. Eight members from Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece, and France, joined a European Group of Economic Interest (EURORICIN), the main objectives of this project included:
A 3-year research project was also initiated in 1995 under the European Agro-industry Research framework. Specific objectives include: identification of main pests and pathogens, physiological mechanisms, crop management, genetics and breeding, and new chemical applications.


Castor bean is mainly produced on set-aside land and yields remain low. Under dry conditions, yields are about 1.0 to 1.2 t/ha but reach 1.5 to 1.8 t under irrigation. However, irrigation is not planned for set-aside land. The discrepancy between experimental yields and actual field yields indicates that progress can still be obtained through better crop management and optimal harvesting conditions (Table 1).

Crop Establishment

Soil tillage is important for a spring crop which requires high water resources from the soil. Ploughing is necessary. Fertilization requirements are similar to those of sunflower (40 to 60 kg of N and 50 kg of PK /ha).

Weed control is based on a pre-sowing application of trifluraline and a pre-emergence application of linuron. Due to lack of selectivity, both products are usually applied by farmers before sowing.

Sowing date must be as early as possible and generally is similar to the maize establishment date. Emergence requires about three weeks and, thus, sowing depth must be about 4 to 7 cm.

The seeding rate is about 50,000 seeds/ha. Row spacing depends on the combine harvester used (80 cm in our conditions). The cycle duration for current cultivars is about 130-150 days or 1200-1300 degree-days.

Fig. 1 compares Photosynthetic Area Index (PAI) and available light during the crop cycle. Note that maximum light interception occurs when light is decreasing. Earlier genetic material should thus be required in order to optimize photosynthesis.

Crop Protection

Harrowing is generally carried out when plants have between 2 and 5 leaves in order to improve chemical weed control. Irrigation is appropriate if water is available. The optimal period for irrigation is after flowering in order to maintain leaf surface and improve seed production.

Pests and diseases remained minor problems except bugs (Nezara viridula) where high sensitivity occurs at the beginning of flowering. However, we suspect that some insects (Lysus) and pathogens (such as Alternaria) induce adverse effects on yield.

Defoliation speeds up maturity and makes the harvest easier. Diquat or glyphosate can be used. Breeding of earlier cultivars will avoid this application under some conditions.


Methods to renew the castor industry in United States has been reviewed by Brigham (1993). In France yields need to be increased by improved harvesting practices and improvement of earliness. The first hybrids show a reduction of about 10-15 days of the crop cycle duration and no longer require defoliation.

A new system for dehusking the seeds during harvesting has been designed. About 90% of the husks are removed by the combine harvester. Although such a system avoids an additional cost of 400 FF/t ($ 80/t), the cost of the harvester modification remains too high and harvesting capacity too low. Improvement of the harvester is currently going on but an increase of the crop area should be necessary to reduce costs.

At the present time, no profitable return is possible without subsidies in the current European context. Furthermore, extra costs due to collecting, storage, and transport must be reduced in order to allow a farmer return price of about 2000 FF/t ($ 400/t).


Brigham, R.D. 1993. Castor: Return of an old crop. p. 380-383. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.
Table 1. Yields of castors in France.

Yields (t/ha)
Actual field
Year Trials Mean Minimum Maximum Oil content (%)
1991 2.4 1.0 0.5 2.2 51
1993 2.6 1.7 1.1 2.5 52
1994 2.4 1.2 0.6 2.2 51

Fig. 1. Castor bean crop cycle.

Last update August 21, 1997 aw