Winter camelina: An emerging crop for the Upper Midwest
Winter camelina is a winter hardy annual brassica that produces a valuable oilseed crop. The Forever Green Initiative winter oilseeds team has shown that winter camelina is economically viable and can provide ecosystem services. Winter camelina can be economically viable as it can yield up to 1,700 lbs per acre and contains around 38 to 42% oil by weight, along with the high levels of omega-3 (linolenic) fatty acid, and high levels of vitamin E. Winter camelina does not carry undesirable traits as some of the other mustard seeds which would make it more acceptable for the market. Camelina oil is also known to be used as a healthy alternative cooking oil, and renewable aviation fuel.
Agricultural practices for immediate human needs have affected the environmental conditions, depletion of pollinator populations and soil qualities. To overcome some of these ecological issues, one of the recommended solutions is to use cover crops such as winter camelina, field pennycress and intermediate wheatgrass (Figure 1). These winter crops can suppress herbicide resistant weeds in the spring, and uptake nitrogen or phosphorus remains in the fall and spring. Introduction of winter camelina with its economic benefits could enhance agricultural crop diversity, productivity and can also positively influence the population of beneficial insects.
Figure 1. Opportunities to improve the environmental conditions with the increased biomass production. (Heggenstaller et al., 2008).
Figure 2. An example of relay cropping systems used for winter camelina as a cover crop. A) Soybeans planted into standing oilseed crop winter camelina. B) Soybeans after harvesting camelina seeds.
Implementation of such economically important crops into the current agricultural systems requires an understanding of the agronomics of winter camelina. Researchers have shown that winter camelina can be used for double or relay cropping systems with the full seasonal crops such as soybean and corn. For the relay system (Figure 2), the soybean or corn is planted in the spring at a near normal time between rows of camelina and for the double cropping system, the soybean/corn is planted after the harvest of cover crops.
Recently experiments were deployed to optimize fall establishment, grain yield and oil quality of winter camelina into corn and soybean cropping systems. Outcomes of these experiments have been published in peer-reviewed journals highlighting the benefits of camelina as a cover crop. Gesch et al. (2014) found that relay cropping systems with soybean and camelina yielded greater than double cropping systems (Figure 3). Authors also suggested relay cropping of winter camelina with soybean will be agronomically viable for the upper Midwest and might attract farmers seeking a "cash" cover crop with limited inputs.
Figure 3. Camelina and soybean seed yields for the various cropping systems in 2010 and 2011. Blue arrows highlighting the performance of relay cropping systems. Adapted from Gesch et al. (2014).
A follow-up study on the environmental impact of double and relay cropping systems with winter camelina was published by Berti et al. (2017a). Environmental aspects studied by the researchers focused mainly on global warming, abiotic depletion, acidification, and toxicity.
The authors found that the dual cropping systems increased both the primary productivity per unit area and biodiversity as well as reducing soil erosion. Although these systems provided higher productivity per unit area, carbon emissions were higher due to increased diesel used for planting and harvesting. Overall, authors have recommended that the increased system productivity along with the environmental benefits will encourage farmers to adopt such practices.
Once the potential benefits of using winter camelina as a cover crop were understood in terms of economic and environmental aspects, another study was developed to identify appropriate planting dates for camelina to prevent competition for resources with the primary crops (Berti et al. 2017b). Authors highlighted that camelina establishment was best when sown after the harvest of primary crops.
Current research is expanding the investigation to include:
- Harvest management for optimal oilseed grain and soybean yield and oil quality.
- Predicting optimal harvest timing to improve oilseed grain yield and quality.
- Determine optimal planting date and seeding rate of winter annual oilseeds into R6 corn.
Berti M., Johnson B., Ripplinger D., Gesch R., and Aponte A. (2017a). Environmental impact assessment of double- and relay- cropping with winter camelina in the northern Great Plains, USA. Agricultural Systems, 156:1-12.
Berti M., Samarappuli D., Johnson B.L., and Gesch R.W. (2017b). Integrating winter camelina into maize and soybean cropping systems. Industrial Crops & Products, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2017.06.014
Gesch R.W., Archer D.W., and Berti M. (2014). Dual cropping winter camelina with soybean in the northern corn belt. Agronomy Journal, 106:1735-1745.