Intercropping Camelina and Soybeans

I want to talk about some research I have been doing with colleagues from the University of Guelph and Linnaeus Plant Sciences, looking at the potential of camelina under different cropping systems to bring additional value to farming operations.

Camelina, a winter hardy member of the mustard plant family originated in Europe and was first identified in Canada in the mid-1800s. Commercial development of camelina is being actively pursued by Linnaeus Plant Sciences in Saskatoon. Camelina seed meal is an approved feed ingredient of both broiler and layer hens and camelina oil is approved for use in farmed salmon and trout feed where it replaces the wild-sourced fish oils and proteins currently used.  Camelina oil also has a potentially significant consumer market because of its unusually well-balanced fatty acid profile, a stable shelf life of up to two years and the highest smoke point of any popular cooking oil.

One focus of this research project was the use of camelina in a double cropping system with soybeans.  Under this scenario, winter camelina is planted in the fall.  Early spring emergence ensures the crop gets ahead of any competing weeds.  At the appropriate time, soy beans are seeded into the standing camelina crop, which is typically harvested in mid to late June in southwestern Ontario.  The soybeans continue to grow after camelina harvest until they are ready to harvest in the fall.  The potential value of a double cropping system would be in the fall establishment of a winter cover for bare fields, the next spring’s yield of camelina seed followed by the fall harvest of a standard soy bean crop.

As with many field crop research trials, this project encountered one significant challenge; seed germination. The research was funded for two years, and both fall seedings trials of winter camelina were unsuccessful in establishing adequate field stands.  Poor germination can result from a number of factors, including poor seed vigor, inclement weather conditions at planting, or planting into less than ideal soil conditions.  While normally quite competitive once established, a poor camelina stand will suffer from increased weed pressure which ultimately reduces seed yield. In our case, seed vigor was the culprit.  Indoor tests indicated the seed had germination rates above 85%, but once seeded to the field, this rate dropped dramatically.  A new batch of seed allowed the team to carry out an extra season of experiments.  Fall planting produced excellent stands of camelina.  Winter survival averaged about 66%, leaving enough plants to compete successfully with weed growth.   Although the test plots were small, and so results may not reflect what happens with large acreage planting, the winter camelina plots yielded an average of 1038 kg or 45 bushels per hectare, with oil and protein contents of 39% and 27%, respectively.  These values are similar to those found with other studies.  Interestingly, although the intercropped soybean yields of 68 bushels per acre were about 50% of that from the control plots, they were well above the 10 year average soybean yields of 43 bushels per acre from Norfolk county. Again, these results are from small plots, but do suggest that intercropping soybeans into winter camelina could have potential economic benefit to growers

In addition to myself, the others involved in the research include Rene Van Acker, Peter White, Rachel Riddle, Doug Young, and Holly Byker from the University of Guelph, Mahendra Thimmanagari from OMAFRA and Linnaeus Plant Sciences oilseeds research team leader, Deb Puttick.

This research is funded by the OMAFRA-U of G agreement. Additional funding was provided by Linnaeus Plant Sciences.

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