This company isn’t horsing around with camelina

For many horse owners, their animals are like family.

And in some cases, they’re more important than family.

That’s why horse owners, like pet lovers, will spend almost any amount on their animals, including $60 for 3.8 litres of camelina oil — as a feed supplement.

“Our sales are continuing to grow every month from this,” said Jack Grushcow, founder of Smart Earth Seeds, which develops varieties of camelina, contracts production of the oilseed crop and sells camelina oil and meal to a variety of customers.

For a year or so, Smart Earth Seeds has been selling its own brand of camelina oil to horse owners in Canada. The oilseed has a desirable ratio of omega-3 to omega 6 fatty acids and is a quality source of vitamin E. Some research shows that omega-3s can assist horses suffering from heaves (equine asthma) and have anti-inflammatory properties to treat arthritis.

Other stories in the Western Canola & Pulse Crops Producer:

“The feedback (from customers) we’ve got on this is just ridiculous. You couldn’t write these reviews,” Grushcow said from his office in Vancouver.

“We’ve got tons of these third party (plaudits).”

So far, Smart Earth is selling only into the Canadian horse market, but the company has its eye on the United States.

Grushcow and his Smart Earth team may prefer to build U.S. sales slowly because they don’t have a huge supply of camelina oil.

Over the last few years, Smart Earth has contracted around 5,000 acres of camelina production in Western Canada — almost all of it in west-central Saskatchewan. Many producers have grown Midas, a Smart Earth Seeds variety developed by Agriculture Canada, but that could soon change.

One of the challenges of camelina is that the seed is small, about a quarter to half the size of canola, making harvest more difficult. Weed control is also a problem because no in-crop herbicides are available for broadleaf weeds. Smart Earth has been working on both of those challenges.

Camelina oil has the potential to displace fish oil in the aquaculture industry because it has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. | File photo

It has developed a new variety with larger seeds, called Cypress, and is waiting on approval for an herbicide-tolerant camelina.

“We’re in the process with CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) of getting our Group 2 herbicide variety approved. We’re hoping we’ll have a large seeded, herbicide-tolerant variety available in about two years,” said Grushcow, who had a computer software company in the 1990s and sold the technology to Microsoft.

Acreage could jump much higher than 5,000 when that variety hits the market, but it’s not a worry because Grushcow is convinced buyers want more camelina.

He may be right.

In the last couple of years there have been positive signs for camelina oil and meal:

In 2017 the CFIA approved camelina oil as a feed for farmed salmon and trout.

In late 2016 the CFIA gave the thumbs up for camelina meal in feed for layer hens.

The University of Saskatchewan has been studying camelina meal’s potential as feed for dairy cows.

“Recent papers have shown that camelina can have a positive impact on milk fat qualities, so this would be a good time to follow up on that and get some more information,” Rex Newkirk, associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan and the agriculture ministry-endowed research chair in feed processing technology, said in 2016.

“Once (our) studies are complete, then it’s about putting together a package and providing that to CFIA.”

While horses, hens and dairy cows are promising, the big prize is likely the global fish farm market. Camelina oil has the potential to displace fish oil in the aquaculture industry because it has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

“The use of wild-sourced fish to feed the farmed fish is not sustainable, either ecologically or economically,” Claude Caldwell of Dalhousie University said in a statement.

A number of fish farms have been testing camelina oil, and Grushcow is hoping they will soon commit to major orders.

“We are expanding our customer base in the aquaculture business quite significantly,” he said.

“(It’s) not as high margin … but your costs of sales is way less…. That’s really going to be driving a lot of the acres.”

Not all of those potential acres will be in Western Canada.

Aquaculture is a global business and Smart Earth is collaborating with farmers in Chile, Argentina and Italy.

Grushcow envisions a future where camelina is grown relatively close to fish farms.

“Where there are large aquaculture operations … we want to have a production footprint.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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