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Grow with KARE: Winter camelina

A new oil seed crop with potential to transform food, fuel and feed in Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative is developing Camelina,a crop with the potential to produce: 

  • Good-tasting and versatile cooking oil with hearty healthy omega 3’s and antioxidants.
  • Ingredients for plant-based foods (great for vegan diets)
  • Ingredients for a variety of our favorite prepared foods – salad dressings, sauces, cakes, cookies, hot dogs, etc.
  • Animal feed for poultry, horses, pigs
  • Bio-fuel
  • Bio-plastics
  • Terrific environmental services that help enhance soil health, retain water to prevent run-off, capture carbon, and food source for pollinators.
  • Camelina can be planted as a cover crop rotated in after the soybean harvest so it is a boon for farmers (double crop, diversity of income).
  • Camelina is just one of the Forever Green Initiative crops that provide food, farm income, and environmental services … truly good news!

Winter camelina is an exciting crop in research at the University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative and USDA-ARS that has great potential for use as a cover crop that can protect soil and water and provide important economic benefits to farmers in Minnesota and Upper Midwest.

Farmers in Minnesota plant winter camelina in the autumn to establish early growth. It goes dormant over the winter, but when the spring rains come and the soil starts to thaw, winter camelina starts to grow. This early growth provides important soil cover that can absorb significant rainfall, preventing erosion and loss of nutrients. Winter camelina blooms in mid-to-late May, providing pollinators with an important food source during a time when little else is in bloom. Winter camelina seeds set shortly thereafter and farmers are harvesting with a conventional combine by late June or early July.

Researchers are exploring how winter camelina can serve as a companion crop to soybean in relay-cropping systems. In these systems camelina is sown in autumn, and the relay crop (soybean) is planted at the normal time in spring into the growing winter oilseed. When camelina is harvested in mid-to-late June, it opens the canopy to allow the soybean crop to grow quickly and mature at the normal time in September. The combined production of both crops (winter oilseed and soybean) is greater in terms of overall seed weight and oil yield than a traditional single crop of soybean. Projected economic returns also are higher for the combined winter oilseed-summer soybean system than for the mono-cropped soybean. Thus, when markets are established, growers in the Upper Midwest are expected to have higher profits with relay-cropping than mono-cropping. 

Under Principal Investigator Dr. B. Pam Ismail, the UMN Food Science and Nutrition Department is evaluating camelina for its potential to be used in food systems. Winter camelina boasts a variety of desirable attributes that align well with current food trends. It is currently non-GMO, non-allergenic, and compliant with vegan diets. Winter camelina seeds are hearty in high-quality edible oil, protein, and dietary fiber. The seeds contain about 35-40 percent oil with very high levels of α-linolenic acid, which is a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid; they also contain the antioxidant tocopherol (i.e., vitamin E), which adds nutritive value and may extend the shelf life of the oil. The seed meal remaining after oil processing is a rich source of dietary fiber and plant-based protein. In fact, Winter camelina and other plant-based protein sources are being researched as part of the Plant Protein Innovation Center, a research consortium started by Dr. Ismail in 2018 to address the increasing demand for plant-based foods.

Due to its diverse composition, protein from winter camelina has the potential to replace various ingredients in many of the favorite foods we eat, serving a functional purpose to add gelling, emulsification or foaming capabilities in foods such as hot dogs, salad dressing, sponge cake and many more. Additionally, protein from winter camelina may be used in vegan or vegetarian products as a replacement for whey protein, while also adding nutritional benefits.

Furthermore, the seed meal remaining after oil processing is a nutritious FDA-approved livestock feed being studied for animal feed for swine, poultry, fish and even horses. Industry is also looking at winter camelina as a potential source for bio-fuel and bio-plastics.

Winter camelina is just one of more than a dozen crops in research through the University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative. More information on winter camelina and the other crops and cropping systems can be found on the Forever Green Initiative website.

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We answered your latest questions on our segment that aired June 15, 2019!