In addition to its fibers, flax is valuable for its seeds, which have a high oil content, can be consumed by people and livestock, and can be pressed to produce linseed oil. Linseed oil is used in a variety of products, including wood finishes, paints and linoleum. It is also consumed as a nutritional supplement due to its high level of omega-3 fatty acids.
A less common crop, camelina has only recently received research interest as it is being rediscovered for its nutritional value and potential as a biofuel. A cool-weather crop long cultivated in Eastern Europe, camelina was maligned elsewhere in Europe and in the U.S. as a weed that grew voluntarily in flax fields.
"European farmers probably brought camelina to the New World accidentally, mixed in with their flax seed," Whitehead says. "It is likely that Benedict Mellinger complained about the 'false flax' on his farm."
The oilseed demonstration and evaluation project is being conducted in collaboration with Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative, which is collecting complementary data in plots on its research farm in La Farge, Wisc. The cooperative is especially interested in longer crop rotations with more diverse crops in them for its member farms, as well as the additional on-farm value that oilseed crops could offer, Whitehead said.
In September, Organic Valley will bring its mobile oil press to the Mellinger Farm to press the harvested seeds and offer a workshop for its Ohio members and other interested farmers. The oil, pressed meal and fiber will then be analyzed by OARDC researchers to evaluate their potential for fuel, cooking and animal feed.
"We're hoping to get a picture of the economic and ecological benefits that these crops could provide to an integrated farming system, including and beyond seed oil," Whitehead says.