Prospects for camelina are looking up – in fact way up. The oilseed crop’s potential got a big boost last month when Boeing, JAL and KLM airlines concluded testing with successful flights of passenger airliners fuelled by camelina biofuel. That’s led to a partnership agreement between Great Plains Oil, the parent company of the Camelina Company and BioJet, the leading international producer of renewable jet fuel.
“The aviation industry is eager to buy renewable fuels to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Dan Kusalik, crop production manager for the Camelina Company. “They want 750 million gallons a year, which would mean about 15 million acres of camelina, and the U.S. military is interested too. Camelina has a great oil profile for aviation and it’s not a food crop, so we avoid the food-fuel issue.”
Great Plains has projects underway that will produce 200 million gallons a year of renewable jet fuel along with 65 million gallons of byproducts and 2.3 million tonnes of camelina meal within five years. Demand for sustainable biofuel looks good in the short and long term.
Camelina meal, with its high protein, high energy, omega fatty acids and vitamin E, has been approved for inclusion in livestock diets at 10 per cent for feedlot cattle and two per cent for other animals, but Great Plains hopes to receive approval soon for higher rates, especially for poultry. Their target is to have a million acres of camelina by 2011, some on the Prairies and some in Montana, Colorado and drier parts of the Pacific Northwest.
The demand for camelina is secure, so delivery is assured and the current contract price is between $7 and $8 a bushel, and, if the price of diesel rises, premiums kick in. There’s also a trucking allowance of five cents/km/tonne to reduce the cost of delivery to Lethbridge (All prices U.S.).
Camelina used to be considered a weed called false flax. It looks a bit like a cross between flax and canola, its a branched plant with small round heads and a strong taproot. It’s native to Europe from Finland to Romania, so it’s adapted to a wide range of climates. It’s easy to grow and matures in 90 days.
Yields aren’t very high compared to canola, usually 25 to 35 bushels per acre, but costs are much lower. It requires about 65 per cent of the nutrients needed for canola, and seed costs $15 an acre. Camelina is well suited to dry areas and can produce profitable yields with very little moisture, but it can also fit in other areas when other cropping options are limited.
Rescue, a new variety, matures in 75 days, so you can seed well into June and still harvest a crop. Other varieties take a little longer, but yield better. The Camelina Company has developed several varieties for the Prairies and Northwestern U.S. Kusalik says you can seed camelina any month of the year except July and August, although the timing for successful seeding is different for every area.
Camelina is very frost tolerant, so it can be seeded very early or in fall, from September to freeze-up. Camelina seed producer Ryan Mercer of Lethbridge advises seeding the crop either very early as the first crop you put in or last. In a pinch though, camelina may allow you to harvest a crop when other options are limited. It tolerates considerable frost, but it doesn’t do well in hot weather – high temperatures reduce yield.
HERBICIDE OPTIONS LIMITED
There are no broadleaf herbicides for camelina because it’s a new crop, so it needs to be seeded when it can keep ahead of weeds. It is an aggressive crop that can outgrow weeds, though. There is a registered graminicide.
The seed is smaller than canola so seeding very shallow after a burn-off is best. So far, insects aren’t a concern. The only insect damage Kusalik has seen, over thousands of acres in the last five years, has been from flea beetles in very early spring. But the insects only seem to feed on camelina when there’s nothing else for them to eat.
“I’ve seen camelina with no sign of damage when flea beetles were chewing away on wild mustard,” he says. “Camelina seems to be the last thing any insect wants to eat.”
He adds that disease has also not been a concern so far. In preliminary tests, it even grew in a clubroot nursery, the roots showed signs of infection, but it seemed to tolerate the disease.
In the south, early-seeded canola can be harvested in July. It’s easy to straight combine and it is naturally resistant to shattering. Even in southern Alberta winds, ripe crops have stood for a few weeks without shattering. Kusalik says one southern Saskatchewan field yielded 50 bushels last year, about the best he has seen. Another yielded 35 bushels where durum only produced 15 bushels, but Kusalik doesn’t advise pushing for high yields.
“Camelina isn’t a big high-yielding crop, at present,” he says. “But net returns are more important than big yields. Camelina doesn’t need a lot of inputs or attention and it does well where you might consider wheat or even summerfallowing because of poor moisture or some other problem.”