Camelina: a potential new crop for Ont.

Camelina: a potential new crop for Ont.
May 21, 2021

The crop is similar to canola and has many potential end uses

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

Though corn, soybeans and wheat dominate the landscape in Ontario, opportunities exist to include lesser known species in field crop rotations. Camelina is a hardy brassica crop with potential for many end-uses, Jim Todd told He’s the industrial crops specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

“It’s quite an old crop, it was certainly grown in Italy in the middle ages,” he explained. Though you may not have heard of the crop before, “it’s been in Canada since the mid-1800s.”

Camelina “is a member of the brassica family, so it would be very similar to canola and some of the other mustards,” Todd said. The crop would likely grow best in similar conditions that are optimal for canola.

“Although, it has a shorter life cycle than canola, so you could grow it in some of the warmer, southernly regions if you planted a winter variety because that comes up very early,” he added. “We’ve done a small project to look at (planting) a winter variety. Camelina comes up very early in the spring, and then you either intercrop that with soybeans or you can relay crop that with a very short season soybean in some locations.”

Farmers who adopt this rotation would “get a winter cover crop, an oilseed crop in the spring, and then follow that up with an oilseed or other food crop through the summer,” Todd explained.

The market for camelina is developing. Currently the crop is harvested mainly for industrial and animal feed uses, but future potential exists for human consumption or even jet fuel.  

Camelina “meal is currently registered as a feed ingredient for broilers and layers and the oil is registered for use as a feed ingredient for salmon and trout farms,” Todd explained. “It has quite a high content of the omega-3 and -6 fatty acids which are the healthy fatty acids. There’s some potential to develop it as a feed ingredient for cattle and swine, but that hasn’t been registered in Canada yet.”

Additionally, “the oil has traditionally been used as an industrial oil or lubricant,” he added.

“Jet fuel would be a huge opportunity,” he said. “Certainly, the aviation industry in North America has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050, so they need to replace all their petroleum-based fuel with other alternatives, so that’s an option.”

In terms of human consumption “because it’s got this very high content of omega fatty acids and also quite high content of antioxidants like vitamin E, it’s quite healthy for you,” Todd explained. However, it does have high levels of erucic acid – the same acid that was present in large quantities in rapeseed that led to the development of canola.

“Getting rid of that would be good and efforts are ongoing for that,” Todd explained.

Farmers may be able to take advantage of agronomic characteristics of camelina.

“Camelina is a very hardy plant, it requires fewer nutrients than canola, it’s quite a bit more drought tolerant and shows a little bit better insect and disease resistance than canola,” Todd said. “You can probably get a good yield from places where other crops might fail.”

The short life cycle also means that cameline may fit into existing rotations in Ontario as a relay or double crop.

Farmers have successfully grown the crop in in Minnesota, although nobody is currently growing commercially in Ontario.  

“The most interest I’ve seen is using it just as a winter cover crop, and then (the farmer) might take the seed off and use it for feed for their poultry operations,” Todd said. “There’s a lack of crushing capacity for specialty oils. You can’t extract the oil unless you’ve got your own on-farm season. So that’s one of the major drawbacks for market development.”

Investment in genetic improvement and processing may make camelina a more feasible crop opportunity for farmers in Ontario.  

BanksPhotos\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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