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Camelina

Quick Facts

  • Camelina is an oil producing brassica crop similar to oilseed rape but with a high linolenic fatty acid content. Only nominal areas are cultivated currently.
  • Spring sown types are primarily grown in climates like Ireland as there are no herbicides/fungicides registered for use, necessary for winter crop production.
  • Camelina is a good break-crop that benefits succeeding cereal crops in rotations.
  • Markets and production support in terms of varieties and agronomy research are relatively undeveloped compared to oilseed rape.
  • Research and practice to date suggests it is a low-input crop that can produce its unique oil at a competitive cost.
  • While camelina oil can be used for industrial uses, it also has potential as healthy edible oil in human nutrition.
  • The high levels of linolenic fatty acid increases the risk of rancidity if the oil is not stabilised.

Crop Description

  • Camelina is a brassica grown primarily for its oil. It’s also known as false flax or gold of pleasure. In the past it was commonly grown for its oil which was used as oil-lamp fuel.  As oilseed rape, which produces more stable oil, increased in production, the cultivation of Camelina declined.
  • While its primarily cultivated as a spring sown crop, there are winter hardy versions available.
  • Camelina grows up to 1m tall. Its branched stems are generally smooth or only sparsely hairy near their base. Leaves are arrow-shaped, 50mm to 90mm long with smooth edges. It produces many small, pale yellow or greenish-yellow flowers with 4 petals. Fruits are pear shaped pods with a squared off tip.
  • Camelina oil has a unique fatty acid pattern characterised by a linolenic acid content of 30% to 40% and less than 4% erucic acid. While this is a nutritional advantage, it can result in a less stable oil which may need stabilisation with antioxidants for use as a commercial oil.

Markets

At present the market for camelina is small and undeveloped due to limited research, development and consumer/end user awareness of the crop and oil. Camelina oil and its components can be used in foods, feeds, cosmetics and industrial products (biolubricants).

Camelina for human consumption

  • Camelina oil has a seed oil content of 42-47% and a unique fatty acid profile dominated by a linolenic acid content of 38-40%,
  • Linolenic acid (Omega 3 oil), is essential in human and animal diets and has potential human health benefits.
  • Camelina oil, if cold-pressed, is particularly suited as a base for salad dressings or in Chinese/Oriental style cooking.
  • The seeds themselves can be used in bread, similar to poppy or sesame.
  • Camelina has a wide range of applications in processed foods such as oil based spreads, blends and salad dressings.

Industrial use

  • Camelina oil and the extracted cake can also be used as a base for a similar range of industrial products as oilseed rape, including biofuels, fuel additives, lubricants, surface coating agents, polymers, functional additives, adhesives, cosmetics and as a source of medical compounds.

Animal nutrition

  • Whole seed and oil-extracted camelina meals are high-value animal feed components. The oil-extracted cake is a particularly useful protein and energy source with a protein content of 40% and low glucosinolate levels. Camelina can be used for the production of omega-3 enriched food products by feeding diets high in Camelina. Eggs high in omega-3 oil can be produced this way and there is potential  with other animal based food products.

Suitability for Ireland

  • Limited research to date suggests spring-sown camelina is well suited to the Irish climate and soils. The potential for cultivation of winter varieties is currently hampered by the unavailability of registered herbicides and fungicides.
  • Spring camelina is a low input break crop that would fit in well with other arable cropping in Ireland.
  • The field equipment required is common with cereals and sowing and harvest dates allow efficient use of labour and equipment.
  • Uncertainty about markets and the related lack of a supporting research and technology support programme are major limitations on its current suitability.
  • The whole crop and expellor cake are valuable high protein feed constituents.

Rotation/Break Crop Benefits

  • Camelina is a good-break crop with similar attributes to OSR from a break crop perspective. A subsequent cereal crop would be expected to yield 0.5-1.5t/ha more than continuous cereals, due mainly to disease breaks but also other benefits which brassicas bring to rotations.

Research and Development Status

  • There is very limited breeding activity internationally with camelina. There are opportunities to develop improved varieties with a focus on improving oil quality. The challenge is to retain high omega-3 oil content while improving the stability of the oil.
  • While many aspects of production of camelina may be similar to oilseed rape, there is very limited research-based production information for our climate. The reputation that camelina is a low input crop may in part be due to the small areas that have been grown to date.
  • If markets were to develop for camelina, a comprehensive agronomy research programme, building on the knowledge we have from oilseed rape, would be essential to ensure efficient production. This would be necessary in all areas of production including crop establishment, crop nutrition and weed and disease control. 
  • There is also scope and need to develop the food nutrition and health benefit potential of camelina oil whether for direct consumption or indirectly through animal products.

Crop Production Summary

  • Similar production methodology to spring oilseed rape.