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Camelina’s potential

When Great Plains camelina company’s Duane Johnson predicted a camelina crop at Lind, Wash., would hit 2,000 pounds, eyebrows raised.

Johnson, ag development vice president, made the call during the annual field day at Washington State University’s Dryland Research Station during a camelina report by superintendent Bill Schillinger.

But Schillinger’s estimate of the crop was 200 pounds lower than the number growers heard Johnson predict when asked to check the station’s crop.

In its third year, WSU camelina tests hit only 1,400 pounds when planted on summer fallow. Last year’s drought-stricken crop hit about 100 pounds, says Schillinger.

Focused on biodiesel use at this time, the crop, which has food potential as well, is catching the eye of more Western growers. Great Plains, a Montana concern, actively solicits new contracts each year in the region, although most of its sourcing today is from Montana and Canada.

“There’s a lot of excitement about this crop in the oilseed industry,” says Schillinger. “We’re excited about it in our area because there’re not a lot of crops other than winter wheat we can grow successfully” in this environment.

His crops and management are part of a U.S. Department of Energy and WSU grant project to study camelina in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. Investigating a rotation of winter wheat, camelina and summer fallow for the area, Schillinger says camelina can be direct-seeded into wheat stubble.

Winter survival

Hardiness qualities of camelina planted in November were noted after a year of very low temperatures and high winds the following month.

“Following this bitter cold, we conducted grow-out tests of camelina sampled in the field,” he says. “Initially, we feared that the cold had killed the plants; cotyledon leaves appeared to be dead. But after more than a week on the lab bench, camelina sprouted true leaves. It survived the cold” (as low as minus 10 degrees F).

“This plant appears to have some excellent winter hardiness,” says Schillinger. “With one year of data from an extremely cold winter event without snow cover, we feel that camelina — at least the Calena variety may have as much cold tolerance as most winter wheat varieties.”

Camelina stands at Lind also exhibited a lack of heavy Russian thistle infestations, leading Schillinger to hope that with thick enough camelina stands, it may be competitive with the weed.

Broadcast seeding provided better stands that direct seeding of camelina at all planting dates in Lind, he says.

An indication of camelina interest was revealed by a Sustainable Oils report earlier this year, noting “tremendous response” from growers to contract with the Bozeman, Mont., concern. Sustainable Oils, claiming to have the largest camelina research program in the U.S., hopes for increased grower sign-ups for 2010.

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OIL DUST: Growers march through a camelina trial at Lind Washington’s WSU Dryland Research Station where they heard promising news about the potential of the oil crop as a planting alternative.

This article published in the April, 2010 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.