Denis Keller planted Midas brand Camelina on 120 acres of very marginal land a new miles north of Landis, Sask., last April.
It's very sandy soil, near Goodspring Lake. "Kind of like beach sand," said Garry Graham, agronomist with Central Plains Co-operative in Rosetown.
Friends and relatives told Denis that this particular pasture land was not really fit for growing crops. Previous efforts to grow barley had been anything but successful.
So no one was really very surprised when drought-like conditions persisted in the early summer and nothing happened - no crop emerged - not even much in the way of weeds. "He asked if he was even going to get weeds growing there," said Garry. "It was so dry that even the weeds weren't up."
By June a few patches of cleavers (Galium aparine) were spotted in a few corners and Denis decided he might as well hit them with glyphosate just to clean them up before calling in the crop insurance inspector to confirm the disaster before putting in a claim.
Then a bit of rain came. Then a bit more of a sprinkle. "Usually if it sits in the ground that long, four to six weeks, you get fungus. You can forget it. It's a write-off," said Garry. By now it was mid-June and everyone realized that the most amazing thing was happening. The Camelina simply emerged like gangbusters everywhere. This was after lying dormant in drought-like conditions for weeks on end. No one could quite believe it. "I've been in this game a long time," said Garry. "I've never seen anything like it."
Denis, harvesting in late September, expects the oilseed might yield a very good return. This from a crop that, agronomically speaking, had absolutely nothing going for it this season. "This was the worst year possible to experiment with a relatively new crop like Camelina on such crappy land," said Garry. "As with any new crop it's kind of scary."
Being the local agronomist, consultant, and generally responsible person, Garry tried to put on a brave face in that very worrisome period between April and June. "I said don't worry, after the rain it'll come up. But honestly I thought I was going to get tarred and feathered."
No one could believe how robust the Camelina was, once it sprang from the ground. "It's a determined little thing. It's so not normal." But no one could argue with the facts on the ground. There it was - not just growing but thriving. "This doesn't act like any crop I've ever seen. You turn your back on it and it threatens to go nuts.” To have so many variables stacked up against it: drought, weed competition, not much in the way of nutrients in extremely marginal soil, and to lie dormant for so long - most crops would just throw in the towel, said Garry. "This is a little crazy. I'd say when farmers hear about this kind of thing it should kind of freak everybody out. But it's kind of fascinating too. I think it's going to do really well."
Denis is hoping for 30/bu per acre before dockage. Garry thinks Camelina will be just right for other farmers in central Saskatchewan. "Quite a few people have land like that," he said. "It's not that great as far as land goes. You could see that particular field how desert-like it looks."
But land is expensive these days and people are looking to use every available corner of arable soil, even some that seems hardly arable.
When you add it all up: a robust crop that fits in most rotations that can thrive on marginal land with low input costs, Smart Earth Seeds Midas Camelina suddenly becomes more than viable - it's almost like a surprising and unexpected lottery win.