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Camelina, also known as false flax or gold-of-pleasure, is an oilseed belonging to the Brassicaceae (mustard) family. It is native to Europe and naturalized in North America where it grows well under a wide range of climatic and soil conditions. The crop originated on the steppes of southeastern Europe and in southwestern Asia. This is an area characterized by a climate very similar to the Canadian Prairies with short, hot, summers, long cold winters and relatively low average yearly precipitation. This makes Camelina a natural fit for the Prairies.
The association of Camelina with human civilization reaches back to prehistoric times. Archaeological records suggest that it has been grown in Europe for at least 3,000 years. Very early findings indicate that Camelina seed was a substantial part of the human diet and consumed in porridges and the like, and it seems the Romans appreciated the pleasant aroma of the oil as cooking, lamp, or massage oil. As fuel, Camelina oil historically was used in many parts of Europe as the lamp oil of choice until the advent of gas and electricity in the 19th century. Camelina continued to be quite commonly grown all across Europe, particularly Russia, until – ironically – the onset of the large-scale production of hydrogenated vegetable oils in the mid-1950s (hydrogenation creates trans-fatty acids which are today known to cause adverse health effects). But because the hydrogenation of Camelina oil is more difficult and more cost-intensive than, for example, hydrogenation of canola oil, it became economically unfeasible to grow Camelina and acreages dwindled. Today, Camelina is sporadically grown in Europe as a source for culinary oil.
But while Camelina is an oilseed with a long history in Eastern Europe and Russia, it is a relatively new crop in North America where it has sparked interest as a non-food, low-input, feedstock for the production of biofuel and bio-based industrial products such as lubricants, hydraulic fluids and polymers.
Today there is keen interest in the health benefits of Camelina as a high-yielding source of nutritionally important Omega fatty acids, delivered in a high anti-oxidant background. It provides excellent quality meal and oil for animal feed and aquaculture. The oil profile is similar to flax in that it provides high-Omega oil but has greater oxidative stability than flax. Camelina oil is in high demand for aquaculture, improving the N6:N3 ratio in farmed fish while delivering a more sustainable marine-free diet and so reduces the requirement to use fish oil. Camelina meal produces high-Omega eggs in layers and meat in broilers. Exciting emerging markets include dairy, companion pets and human health and nutrition.
Camelina's primarily self-pollinating flowers are small and pale yellow in colour. Characteristic for a member of the mustard family, the flowers feature four petals. They give rise to pear-shaped seed pods which are 7 to 9 mm long. Camelina seeds are golden, brown, or reddish-brown when mature. They are oblong-oval and quite small with a 1000 seed weight of 1.0 – 1.3 gr. The seed oil content is about 41%, with the following fatty acid composition: 25-42% α-linolenic acid (C18:3), 13-21% linoleic acid (C18:2), 14-20% oleic acid (C18:1), 12-18% gondoic (eicosenoic) acid (C20:1), and 2-4% erucic acid (C22:1).
Camelina is a short-season crop: time from seeding to maturity is only 85 to 100 days. Camelina possesses very good frost tolerance in the seedling stage and the full-grown plants exhibit good drought tolerance. This makes it an attractive oilseed crop alternative for Saskatchewan, particularly in the lighter soils of the southwest. Resistance to flea beetles and black leg disease, as well as good shatter resistance, add to the agronomic benefits of this crop. Lower input costs make for competitive returns at low risk.