An oilseed miracle: Camelina overcomes the toughest growing conditions

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An oilseed miracle: Camelina overcomes the toughest growing conditions

Denis Keller first planted Midas brand Camelina on 170 acres of very marginal land a few miles north of Landis, Sask., in April 2014.

It’s very sandy soil, near Goodspring Lake. “Kind of like beach sand,” he said, adding he seeded Camelina again in 2015 and 2016 and plans to grow it again this year.

“That is probably the best kind of crop to grow on that type of soil,” Denis said.

Garry Graham, agronomist with Central Plains Co-operative in Rosetown said friends and relatives warned 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, netted around 30 bu/acre before dockage. This from a crop that, agronomically speaking, had absolutely nothing going for it that season. “It 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 of that crop year. “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 emerged. “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 said Camelina has been a nicely profitable crop for him every year, growing it on the most challenging land. So he plans to grow Smart Earth Seeds Camelina once again in the spring of 2018, this time with a larger seed size. “If it sits at 25/30 bushels per acre net, that is a real win,” he said, adding with the promise of a herbicide resistant variety in the near future, returns on the crop could be even higher.

Garry suggested 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 should see that particular field how desert-like it looks.”

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 Camelina suddenly becomes more than viable – it’s almost like a surprising and unexpected lottery win.

The 2018 Smart Earth Seeds Camelina Production Contract Price is set at $11.50 per bushel so if producers can hit yields similar to Denis they could expect a gross return of about $287.50-$345 per acre. Not a bad profit on land that previously produced little or nothing.

*This is an update of our 2015 blog post An agronomic miracle: Camelina overcomes the toughest growing conditions.