Winter camelina may be viable

USDA research | Crop said to be feasible choice for North and South Dakota and Minnesota

U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers have concluded that winter camelina may be a feasible crop in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota.

Over the last few years, Russ Gesch, a USDA scientist in Morris, Minnesota, has studied the concept of a double cropping system that combines winter camelina and soybeans.

Gesch and his colleagues seeded a winter variety of camelina, developed at North Dakota State University, into wheat stubble in mid-September in western Minnesota.

The scientists then seeded soybeans into the camelina in early spring, a practice known as relay cropping. They also double cropped, seeding soybeans in June after the camelina was harvested.

The winter camelina yielded around 21 bushels per acre. The relay cropped soybeans produced 68 to 76 percent of the yields of a mono-cropped soybean plot, which served as a control in the experiment.

The combined yields of the soybeans and camelina were comparable or exceeded the yields of the mono-cropped soybeans.

Gesch, who studies new and alternative crops, said camelina acres in the region might provide an additional benefit to the environment, by stimulating bee health and populations in the upper Midwest.

With corn and soybean acres booming in the Dakotas and Minnesota, a lack of crop diversity may be contributing to a decline in pollinator numbers.

Consequently, Gesch and his USDA colleagues have initiated a pollinator project to understand how bees in the region respond to flowering crops like camelina.

“There are a lot of theories about colony collapse disorder,” he said. “But nutrition is a big part of it. Poor nutrition sets them up to fail…. (and) there’s a lot of bare ground out there in the spring.”

One of the crops in the experiment is a spring camelina variety developed in Canada. The U.S. scientists are evaluating the potential of Midas, a variety bred by Agriculture Canada scientists and commercialized by Linnaeus Plant Sciences.

David Roberts, a Linnaeus spokesperson, said the company conducted trials on Midas last year in Saskatchewan.

“We’re taking it very modestly, one step at a time, so we can develop a positive relationship with producers,” he said.

“We did a few trials in Saskatchewan… and producers made money on it — about $100 per acre, which depending where you are in Saskatchewan, compares very favour-ably with a crop like canola.”

Linnaeus hopes to contract 5,000 acres of Midas in Saskatchewan’s brown soil zone in 2014.

The company also has its eye on the U.S. market, because spring camelina could be a good fit for growers in Montana and other states in the Northern Plains.

The oil in camelina seed can be used to produce biofuels and crop promoters are touting it as an environmentally friendly jet fuel, a source of industrial lubricants and as a crop that be used to manufacture plastics and polymers.

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