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Camelina Expands Oilseed Option

Camelina contacts

Great Plains the Camelina Company Call toll free 1-877-922-6645 or direct to Dan Kusalik at 1-403-330-8687 www.camelinacompany.com

Canpressco Canpressco is a farmer-owned camelina processing facility located at Midale, Sask. Natasha Vandenhurk, director of sales and marketing, 306-292-1551 www.canpressco.com

Seedtec-Terramax Hugh Campbell Qu’Appelle, Sask. 306-699-7368 www.terramax.sk.ca

Seeding date and rate, when to harvest, what to spray and when — all these recommendations come from experience. With a brand new crop, demo sites and research trials are crucial proving grounds for what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. Staff at the Westman Agricultural Diversification Organization (WADO), an applied research and demonstration organization based at Melita, Man., have been doing this trial-and-error work with camelina, an oilseed crop that has many farmer raising eyebrows over its potential.

Scott Chalmers, a diversification technician with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI), has been working with camelina for four years, first in Saskatchewan and now in Manitoba. He’s impressed by what the crop has to offer. “The crop is flexible for seeding dates, requires less nitrogen fertilizer than canola and competes well with weeds in the field,” Chalmers says. The oil it produces is higher in the healthy omega-3 fatty acids than canola and higher in vitamin E than flax, although most in the industry are pushing it for industrial uses rather than food.

Demonstration sites and research plots at Melita prove just how flexible the crop can be. Chalmers says late fall dormant seeding or very early spring seeding has consistently turned out the best crop. “We’re talking dormant seeding in early November, not fall seeding. When we seeded, the seeder didn’t even fully cut in and the packers just floated on the top. The crop came up in mid-April and had a huge jump on the weeds,” he says. “The closer you can seed to either side of winter the better.”

Chalmers adds that camelina’s low fertility requirements — 60 pounds of nitrogen vs. canola’s 90 pounds per acre — make it an attractive choice for farmers looking to save a bit on inputs. “It could also be a good fit for organic producers as its early spring start can out-compete many weeds,” he says. Being a new crop, there are no registered in-crop herbicides — another plus for organic growers. Chalmers encourages a pre-seeding burnoff with glyphosate for conventional growers, either late fall or early spring, depending on when you plan to seed and if there is any perennial weed growth.

Harvesting the crop is likely going to mess up your August long weekend, Chalmers says, but for those looking to spread out the workload, that might not be so bad. On average, the crop is ready to swath the third of fourth week of July with similar swathing recommendations to that of canola.

Combining the crop is easy on your power requirements, as the plant virtually disintegrates in the combine. And while it may be tempting to straight cut the crop due to its shatter resistance, Chalmers insists on swathing and rolling to protect the crop from a harvest hail storm. “I like to swath any podded crop despite the low shatter risk because you never know when the white combine will come.”

Rolling the swath is a must, he says, as the windrows are so light and fluffy. “And because the crop has not had the breeding work done for even maturity, swathing aids in a uniform maturity for low spots in the field that may be a little green,” he says. Unlike flax, there’s no straw to speak of left behind.

TO TREAT OR NOT TO TREAT

Camelina’s adaptation and ease of growing may sound too good to be true, but trying out a brand new crop for Western Canada isn’t without pitfalls. Last year’s wet spring threw a curve ball in to the camelina trial replication at Arborg, Man. Not long after germination, dead patches started showing up in the plots and eventually took out the entire trial. Samples of the dead and dying seedlings were sent in to a lab at the University of Manitoba. The tests weren’t conclusive, but there was an indication of fusarium wilt, a common pathogen that attacks other crops, such as canola, in the area. “Nearly all other crops receive a seed treatment in this area, so we decided that we’d set up a treatment trial for 2009,” says Roger Burak, a diversification technician with MAFRI.

The technicians at Prairies East Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (PESAI), a sister site to WADO, set out to demonstrate the effectiveness of four seed treatments: Helix, Maxim 480, Charter and Vitaflo 280. The trial included a check and was replicated three times at Arborg and further east at Beausejour.

The spring of 2009 seemed promising for a seedling death trial — the same wet, cool conditions of 2008 plagued farmers during the spring. Visually, however, Burak says the crops look fine, with no seedling death in any of the plots, including the untreated check.

The seed treatment plots are in a different location than last year’s, which could play a role in the lack of disease, however Burak notes that the 2007 plots didn’t seem to have a seedling issue either. More research is needed before a seed treatment can be recommended.

THE BOTTOM LINE

“Camelina isn’t going to yield like canola,” Chalmers says. “It just hasn’t had the variety development work that canola has, but the crop can spread out the work load for seeding and harvest and it requires few inputs.” Contracts for the crop — a must for those thinking about trying camelina — were offered in the $9 per bushel range last spring.

As for who should not be growing the crop, Chalmers says that even with seed treatment options, he doesn’t recommend the crop for wet areas, such as the Red River Valley. “There’s just too much seedling disease, such as rhizoctonia and fusarium wilt. It’s too risky.” The crop is both drought-tolerant and unappetizing to insects that usually like drought tolerant plants. “Grasshoppers and flea beetles steer clear of the crop,” he says. “If you can grow canola well, keep doing so, otherwise camelina may be a fit for marginal land not suited for canola production.”

Chalmers sees camelina as a good fit for those who may want to try double cropping by following it with a millet or silage crop or those looking to establish alfalfa. Its early harvest can also fit well with those looking to seed fall rye or winter wheat. Further testing and research is needed before solid rotation benefits and challenges (before and after camelina) can be established.

Lyndsey Smith is a field editor with Grainews, based in Lumsden, Sask.

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