Helping camelina catch on: This durable and versatile crop has potential for Ontario farmers

Posted on Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Written by Mya Kidson

A so-called ancient oilseed called camelina is attracting attention in Ontario. Researchers believe it has potential as a superb cover crop here and are field testing it now in research plots in Simcoe, Winchester and Ridgetown.

Camelina, a member of the mustard plant family, originated in Europe. It was first identified in Canada in the mid-1800s. It’s realized significant growth in Western Canada over the past decade among producers who appreciate its winter hardiness and versatility.

Camelina seed meal is an approved feed ingredient for broiler and layer hens. Camelina oil is approved for use in farmed salmon and trout feed, replacing the wildsourced fish oils and proteins currently used.

Camelina oil also has a potentially significant consumer market. Chefs like its light, nutty, earthy taste. It’s been certified a novel food by the federal government. Its oil has an unusually well-balanced fatty acid profile and a stable shelf life of up to two years. At 246 C, it has the highest smoke point of any popular cooking oil by far.

Camelina field

Industrial crop specialist Jim Todd from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is supporting a research team studying camelina’s ability to thrive in Ontario. He says its robust features and ability to withstand extreme weather conditions make it a suitable fit for changing climate, particularly as a winter cover crop.

Cover crops help improve soil quality by maintaining soil nutrient and moisture content in winter.

“Camelina is a very promising oilseed,” says Todd. “It has already been shown to flourish in Western Canada and our Ontario plots are showing great potential for success as well.”

Todd has come across a few challenges, notably seed germination and weed pressure. Poor germination can result from factors including sub-par seed health, inclement weather conditions at planting or planting into less-than-ideal soil conditions. The crop is usually quite competitive once it’s established, but a poor camelina stand will suffer from increased weed pressure. That ultimately reduces seed yield. The research team is looking at camelina field plots to figure out how to overcome these challenges.

Team members include Profs. Rene Van Acker, Doug Young, Holly Byker, bioproducts specialist Mahendra Thimmanagari, research technicians Rachel Riddle and Peter White, and Linnaeus Plant Sciences oilseeds research team leader Deb Puttick. This research is funded by the Ontario AgriFood Innovation Alliance. Additional funding was provided by Linnaeus Plant Sciences.

Articles in Research magazine are written and produced in part by participants in the Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge (SPARK). See more stories from the 2019 Agri-Food Yearbook (PDF).

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