Ethiopian mustard a new biofuel option

Hardy Ethiopian mustard is immune to blackleg, but needs to be monitored for alternaria

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Those yellow flowers you see when driving down Highway No. 1 this summer may not be canola, but Ethiopian mustard, a new brassica crop intended for biodiesel and bioproducts.

Kevin Falk, a research scientist with Agriculture Canada, specializes in breeding Polish canola and Ethiopian mustard, and has been working with them since 1995. He told an Alberta Canola Industry seminar that the first commercial production of the crop is set for 2012.

Falk said Ethiopian mustard is an extremely vigorous crop that can range from a full white petal to a full yellow petal. When he first began working with Ethiopian mustard, it flowered about two weeks later and matured two to three weeks later than Argentine canola. “I worked roughly for about five years just to get the maturity down,” he said. “Our target was the Argentine canola plus about 10 days.”

Saskatoon is the farthest north that Ethiopian mustard can be grown as the crop is mainly suited for hot, dry areas.

Ethiopian mustard is immune to blackleg, but needs to be monitored for alternaria. It is heat and drought tolerant, and easy to seed in drought conditions. The larger seeds make it easier to seed deeper to reach moisture. The seeds have high oil content, with most of the germplasm now available testing around 30 to 35 per cent oil. “Our best material in the program is pushing about 50 per cent oil,” said Falk.

There’s a possibility to use the meal as a biopesticide, and other byproducts can be used for fuel, lubricants and plastics. Trials of advanced material held in Saskatoon tested Ethiopian mustard, using commonly grown oriental mustards Cutlass and AC Vulcan as checks. Maturity on Cutlass and Vulcan is earlier than Argentine, which is a good benchmark for researchers.

Falk says future research will involve creating hybrids to increase the yield. Ethiopian mustard can cross with Argentine canola, but with a lot of difficulty because the two plants flower about a week apart. “It’s really not a major concern,” Falk said. “However, if you did have delayed seeding, you could actually nick it at some time if they were close. I wouldn’t say it was zero, but there’s a low chance of it happening.”

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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