Safflower was originally grown for the flowers that were used in making red and yellow dyes for clothing and food preparation. Today this crop supplies oil, meal, birdseed, and foots (residue from oil processing) for the food and industrial products markets, although this crop is now primarily grown for the oil.
The oil in linoleic safflower contains nearly 75% linoleic acid, which is considerably higher than corn, soybean, cottonseed, peanut or olive oils. This type of safflower is used primarily for edible oil products such as salad oils and soft margarines. Researchers disagree on whether oils high in polyunsaturated acids, like linoleic acid, help decrease blood cholesterol and the related heart and circulatory problems. Nonetheless, it is considered a “high quality” edible oil and public concern about this topic made safflower an important crop for vegetable oil.
Varieties that are high in oleic acid may serve as a heat-stable, but expensive cooking oil used to fry potato chips and french fries. As an industrial oil, it is considered a drying or semidrying oil that is used in manufacturing paints and other surface coatings. The oil is light in color and will not yellow with aging, hence it is used in white and light-colored paints. This oil can also be used as a diesel fuel substitute with 96.8% yield.
The meal that remains after oil extraction is used as a protein supplement for livestock. The meal usually contains about 24% protein and much fiber. Decorticated meal (most of hulls removed) has about 40% protein with a reduced fiber content. Foots are used to manufacture soap. The birdseed industry buys a small portion of the seed production. Sheep and cattle can graze succulent safflower and stubble fields after harvest.
Jeffrey Ward, deputy engineer for the U.S. Army Installation Management Command said: “We are very interested in getting biodiesel and using our lands to support our own energy needs”
Keith Eastin, vice president for the Louis Berger Group and former assistant secretary for the U.S. Army, called the program an “innovative and unique” approach to biofuel production. He believes it could have a broader application at military installations across the country, where large tracts of land are left vacant as a buffer between training grounds and civilian populations.