“Camelina: the crop you’ve never heard of.”
By Karen England.
Editor's note: Since there was no meeting in April 2020 to report about to the membership, this edition of the From The Archives column features fascinating information taken from the April 2008 Meeting Report, unfortunately the original reporter was not credited, and first appeared in the May 2008, Issue No. 164 of Let’s Talk Plants!
Can a massage oil help prevent global warming? Our dynamic April speaker, Duane Johnson, thinks it can, and he made a persuasive case for the intense scrutiny that Great Plains, the Montana company he works for, is giving to “camelina: the crop you’ve never heard of.”
In a fascinating talk, Duane explained why Camelina sativa is being studied as a new crop for a variety of end products. First used by Neolithic man as a high-protein food source, and later by the Romans for massage oil, this mustard relative was largely forgotten by World War I. Very easy to grow (just scatter it on the ground and stand back!), it caught the attention of researchers looking for botanical alternatives to diesel fuels to grow in Montana and other marginal farming areas.
Duane was looking for a crop “capable of flourishing in a non- traditional environment where food crops are inefficient” so as to avoid diverting valuable agricultural land away from edible crops. Further, the crop had to be adaptable to semi-arid western North America as well as to the frozen tundra further north. Camelina fit these criteria. The seeds have 34-39% oil content, which is full of vitamin E and anti-oxidants. It could be used as biolubricant and to make bioplastics, and could help cut consumption of diesel fuel in the U.S. by as much as 10% a year. The pleasant tasting oil can be used for cooking and salad oil. The straw that is left when the crop is harvested is being studied as a substitute for wood fiber in oriented strand board (OSB) to fiberboard to soundproofing.
Camelina is harvest.
Camelina is harvested using standard combines, and yields 370,000 seeds per pound. It is sown on bare ground from October to March, then harvested in summer. Cold and snow do not deter germination, and camelina needs little water to thrive, doing well even in soil that is not very fertile. It has no insect pests and few diseases, and is not invasive. Further, camelina is “easy on the soil,” and does not consume many soil nutrients.
There are three main opportunities for camelina usage.
There are three main opportunities for camelina. First, it can be used for human and animal foods and is a good source of protein, soluble fiber, and Omega 3. Second, the oil can be used for biofuels, cosmetics, nutraceuticals, plastics and nylon products. Third, the fiber from the straw is a good source of cellulose, which has many applications.
After his talk Duane answered a great many questions from an eager audience, and he certainly got many of us thinking in new directions about a plant that we had never heard of before. Thanks so much, Duane, for bringing another side of horticulture to our attention.
Photos courtesy the Great Plains Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Great-Plains-The-Camelina-Company-302302043166364/