Sask. company has faith in camelina’s future

Crop has the potential to displace fish oil in the aquaculture industry because of high levels of omega 3 fatty acids

After years of minimal growth, camelina acres could soon explode in Saskatchewan.

Smart Earth Camelina Corp., a Canadian company that develops camelina varieties, sells seed and contracts production of camelina, hopes to contract about 15,000 acres of production in 2020.

That’s still small, but it’s up from 5,000 acres in previous years and the company plans to increase production in the near future.

“This 15,000 acres … could easily double next year (2021) to 30,000,” said Jack Grushcow, founder and president of Smart Earth Camelina.

“I have complete confidence that this thing will be several hundred thousand acres in the next three to four years.”

Smart Earth Camelina, based in Saskatoon, was previously known as Smart Earth Seeds.

Grushcow has confidence in camelina, an oilseed in the brassica family of crops, because demand for camelina oil is strong — particularly from fish farmers.

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.

“Camelina could be a viable alternative.”

Smart Earth Camelina also has customers in the equine industry. Horse owners feed camelina oil as a supplement, and there’s interest from pet food companies because it helps control inflammation.

“(But) for scale, in the next couple of years, nothing is going to rival our aquaculture business,” Grushcow said.

“Some of our aquaculture customers have stepped up, big time…. We’ll fill a rail car this month (for shipment to the West Coast). I think it’s the first time a rail car of camelina has ever been filled in Saskatchewan.”

Customers want more but Grushcow has decided to take a go-slow approach. He wants to build a reliable network of growers, elevators, processors and transportation in Saskatchewan so that the supply chain is ready to meet the demand for camelina.

“I wouldn’t paraphrase it as slow. I could call it conservative,” said Grushcow, who in the 1980s founded a firm called Consumers Software Inc. In 1991, Microsoft purchased Consumers Software and its technology, which helps run Microsoft Mail and MS Outlook.

This year Smart Earth Camelina is partnering with Rayglen Commodities to contract production of camelina.

Getting growers to try camelina should be easier this year because there are now four delivery points in Saskatchewan:

  • Landis Producer Co-op in Landis, Sask.
  • Ridgeland Truck & Farm in Arborfield
  • Brown Family Farms in Milestone
  • R W Organic Ltd. in Mossbank

Most of the camelina was previously delivered to the Landis Producer Co-op.

The crop could be an attractive option for Saskatchewan growers who are seeking an alternative to canola. Seed costs are relatively cheap, about $25 per acre, and the Saskatchewan Crop Planning Guide says the oilseed can be profitable.

Using a price of 25 cents per pound and a yield of 1,568 lb. per acre, the estimated gross revenue from camelina is $392 per acre. Variable and fixed costs are estimated at $261 per acre, which produces a return of $131 per acre.

Camelina is unlikely to produce a windfall return because it can’t compete with canola yields of 50 to 60 bushels per acre. Yields are closer to 30 to 35 bu. per acre, or 1,500 to 1,750 lb. per acre.

However, camelina does perform well against canola in lighter soil.

“We’re a star in that brown soil zone, where you’re not getting the big yields out of canola,” Grushcow said.

Smart Earth Camelina also has a new variety on the market — Cypress. Camelina is known for its tiny seeds, about a quarter to half the size of canola, but Cypress has a seed that’s 40 percent larger than previous varieties.

As for customers, demand for camelina oil may be strong but one of the lingering questions about the crop is what to do with the meal.

Grushcow has been working on that.

In 2015 and 2016, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency gave the thumbs up for camelina meal in the ration of broiler chickens and layer hens.

In addition, the University of Saskatchewan has been studying camelina meal’s potential as feed for dairy cows.

Smart Earth Camelina hopes to contract more production over the next few years, but it isn’t the only game in town. Other firms also want to increase camelina’s profile, including Three Farmers, a Saskatoon company that produces and sells cold-pressed camelina oil.

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