Can camelina improve nature’s perfect food?

SASKATOON — The dairy cows at the University of Saskatchewan are eating camelina in hopes of enhancing milk quality.

The Canadian Feed Research Centre is feeding the cow’s different percentages of meal and observing the effects.

“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,” said Rex Newkirk, research lead for the centre at the university.

A study at the University of Bucharest found that feeding portions of camelina meal to dairy cows produced elevated amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

“We have to do a number of studies to show that the product is efficacious, that there’s no toxic effects, no harm done from feeding the material. Once (our) studies are complete, then it’s about putting together a package and providing that to CFIA,” said Newkirk.

Sean Thompson is a feed industry liaison. He works with the feeds innovation institute and the Canadian Feed Research Centre.

“To get it registered with CFIA you need to prove safety and efficacy, so that’s where the trials come in where we model experiments in order to satisfy CFIA’s needs,” said Thompson.

The centre has two trials planned with the first underway. The cows are fed a formulated diet with a zero to 10 percent camelina mixture.

“You get all the various parameters around it and then what you do is after the month is up you switch the cows around… every group of cows is exposed to every level, so you’re not biasing the data,” said Newkirk.

After the four-month trial, the large amount of data will be organized and the second trial will begin, but with higher levels. The cows will then be fed a zero to 20 percent mixture.

“Once we understand exactly how the cows will function, what kind of production we can expect, the milk quality we like, from there our hope is that we can start producing this stuff in Canada,” said Newkirk.

Jack Grushcow is the chief executive officer of Smart Earth Seeds and president of Linnaeus Plant Sciences Inc. He said the company has been working to develop and market camelina for almost 15 years.

“Farmers like the idea of having alternative crops. Camelina’s advantage is it really shines in the lighter soils, the sandier soils, the drier soils in Saskatchewan,” said Grushcow.

Camelina has excellent yield potential over a short season of 85 to 100 days. It grows well in cool temperatures and is drought and frost tolerant.

A member of the Brassicaceae family, camelina shares characteristics to canola and mustard. It can grow up to 90 centimetres tall and requires less nitrogen and rainfall than canola. It’s also more resistant to insects and disease.

Grushcow is eager to see approval from CFIA so he can stop transporting his meal to the United States to be processed.

“We’re a Canadian, Saskatchewan based entrepreneurial company; I could have a market for the meal, a local market, then my farmers could truck locally. We could get it cleaned, crush it (and) sell the meal,” said Grushcow.

He said two things make camelina attractive for farmers on the Prairies.

One is the total input cost. Camelina is cheaper on average than a canola crop and secondly it has a shorter growing season. With its high resistance to frost, it can be planted earlier and harvested later.

“Anytime we can provide local ingredients at a reasonable cost, it’s a benefit to the whole industry,” said Newkirk.

“(Camelina) is just another opportunity for producers to be able to have another crop rotation, although we don’t expect (it) to replace canola, and for our livestock industry (to have) more opportunities for ingredients,” said Newkirk.

The benefits of camelina are far reaching, said Grushcow.

“We have a trade agreement now where trade barriers have dropped and if you take a look at places where we compete traditionally with dairy products like New Zealand … to have value added im-proved products, like a milk that makes an interesting butter or yogurt, that’s going to help distinguish ourselves,” he said.

CFIA approved a 12 percent meal mixture for broilers last year and approval for laying hens is still pending.

Research conducted by the Poultry Research Centre in Alberta found camelina-fed broiler hens had higher levels of Omega-3 in their breast and thigh meat.

Laying hens fed up to a maximum of the 12 percent camelina mixture had omega-3 content increase in their eggs.

Newkirk said the centre is likely to publish the results from the dairy trials late next year.

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