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By Margaret Smith Iowa State University Updated April 2015.

Field Pennycress


Field pennycress is primarily a winter annual weed of winter small grains, nurseries and horticultural crops that is found throughout the United States. A member of the Brassicacea or mustard family, it has potential as an oilseed crop and as a cover crop in summer annual row cropping systems.

Part of the growing interest in the crop potential of field pennycress is that it can be grown in parts of the cornbelt in the fall, winter, and spring, ‘sandwiched’ between corn and soybean crops. Production requires few inputs, little labor, and no land charge, if annual land production costs are charged to the two summer annual crops in the rotation.

Field pennycress oil is suitable for biodiesel, which can be used alone or mixed with petroleum-based diesel to lower the emission of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and other pollutants in engine exhaust.

Seed meal remaining from biodiesel production has several potential uses. Seed meal can be further processed to yield aviation fuel. Alternative processes yield livestock feed or protein isolates for human food, or the seed meal can be used as an organic fertilizer or a biofumigant.


There are currently no commercial processors of field pennycress in the U.S. Farmers wanting to grow pennycress may have the opportunity in the future to contract with a processor. Processors will have access to improved seed varieties.

Pennycress seeds contain up to 36% percent oil and can be crushed and the oil extracted using the cold press method, rather than hexane extraction. The oil contains up to 38 percent erucic and 22 percent linoleic fatty acids. The erucic acid in the oil makes is undesirable for human consumption, but it is well suited for biodiesel production. Biodiesel from field pennycress oil performs better at lower temperatures that biodiesel made from soybean oil.

Following oil extraction, the remaining seed meal contains 32 to 35% protein, some fat and carbohydrate. Pyrolysis of the defatted seed meal can yield aviation fuel. The seed meal, due to high amounts, of glucosinolates, cannot be used for human food or fed directly to livestock without further processing.  Processing has been tested that results in protein isolates from the seed meal suitable for human food and non-food industrial uses.

The high level of glucosinolates, however contributes to biofumigant qualities of the defatted seed meal. The seedmeal offers potential as a biofumigant and/or fertilizer for high-value horticultural crops for both conventional and organic growers.


This species is a prolific seeder producing up to 15,000 seeds per plant, and forms a long-lived (up to 20-30 years) seedbank, making it difficult to eradicate from an area once a population become established. Commercial production as a crop will require improved seed varieties, compared to the weedy biotypes.

Field pennycress can be aerially seeded into standing corn. The best time to seed is in late August to mid-September. Seeding rate is 10-13 lbs per acre. Seed can also be not-till drilled following corn harvest, but this is usually too late to establish a viable crop stand. Commercial production protocols are still under development and testing

Seed yields of 1,500 to 2,000 lbs/A have been achieved in research trials, but in farm production scenarios, yields of 700 to 900 lbs/A are more typical.

Penney cress is typically harvested near the first of June in central Illinois, with soybeans planted immediately following. Though some would consider this late planting for soybeans, research from 2009 and 2010 in west central Illinois demonstrated increased soybean yields following a field pennycress winter crop compared to where no winter annual crop was grown.


Management of field pennycress for oilseed production is very similar to that for winter small grains. Equipment needed, include a no-till drill or access to an aerial applicator, combine harvester and wagons for transportation, is similar to the needs other small-seeded grain or oilseed crops. No herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides are recommended for production. Projected nutrient removal for a crop is 50 lbs/A nitrogen, 20 lbs/ A phosphorus, and 20 lbs/A potassium. These rates will change as genetics improve and yields increase.


Field operations costs to produce field pennycress will be similar to those for winter small grains--- wheat and rye----- for field operations. Where production costs differ from small grains are for: seed, fertility removal, and land costs. A preliminary estimate for a commercial production budget is provided here.

Field Pennycress Costs and Returns

Inputs     (per acre)
Cost per unit
Total Cost

Yield and Revenue

     Seed                       10 lbs/A
           $2.50 (projected)

      $22.50 (projected)

          Nitrogen           50 lb/A
          Phosphorus       20 lb/A
          Potassium         20 lb/A
     Field operations
         Aerial seeding
         Combine harvest
      Land rental



         800 lbs per acre@ 0.15 per pound of seed

   Profit or loss (Revenue – expenses)

Other uses:

Cover cropping

Farmers have observed the success of this volunteer winter annual weed as a cover crop in some years. The concept of planting field pennycress solely as a cover crop is being researched in Minnesota for both soil quality and nutrient sequestration and for benefits to honeybees.


Alpine Pennycress


Another pennycress species found in the United States is alpine pennycress. It is a small perennial plant with small rosettes of leaves that grow on unbranched stems. The plant has small, arrow-shaped leaves that end in tiny white flowers. In the United States, alpine pennycress is found in the Western states of Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Unlike field pennycress, the pods of the alpine pennycress do not resemble pennies; they are more heart-shaped. However, the flowers are more distinctive, either white or lilac with violet anthers.

Alpine pennycress is known to absorb heavy metals. USDA and University of Maryland researchers found that this species of pennycress can remove cadmium and zinc metals from soil. The cost of the remediation method, called “phytoextraction,” was about $250 to $1,000 per acre per year, cheaper than other methods of soil reclamation.


Pennycress Could Go from Nuisance Weed to New Source of Biofuel, USDA

 Extraction of Proteins from Pennycress Seeds

Preparation, Composition and Functional Properties of Pennycress See Protein Isolates, USDA

Soybean Seed Yield and Quality as a Response to Field Pennycress Residue

Dual-Purpose Cover Crops and Onsite retention of Water and Nutrients

The Pennycress Resource Network, University of Western Illinois, USDA

USDA ARS North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station

Bioremediation with Alpine Pennycress

Acidifying soil helps plant remove cadmium, zinc metals, Ag Research Service (ARS), USDA, 2005 - Researchers found that increasing soil acidity can maximize the ability of alpine pennycress to remove cadmium and zinc metals from soil.

Plants, from pennycress to willow, have potential to cleanup polluted soils, researchers are finding; Chronicle Online; Cornell University; 2007.

A taste for heavy metal,Nature, 2003 - A Purdue University study determined that pennycress was the most promising crop that could be used to reclaim heavy metal rich soils.


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