Revised February 2022
Camelina [Camelina sativa (L.) Crantz] is an annual or winter annual in the Brassicacea, or mustard family that originated in Northern Europe. Camelina has been developed as a crop due to its high oil content (30-40%), its unique oil properties and its potential to increase the cropping intensity in certain dryland cropping systems. The oil from camelina is suitable for a variety of food uses and for biodiesel production. The oil is composed of six percent saturated fatty acids, 30% monosaturated fatty acids and 64% polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega -3 fatty acids comprise 39% (alpha linolenic acid [ALA], 38%) of the oil. The ALA in camelina oil, unlike that in flaxseed oil with a similar high ALA content, has a much longer shelf life and can be stored without special conditions, due to high levels of gamma-tocopherol (Vitamin E). The oil content of camelina varies with cultivar and seasonal growing conditions.
In North America camelina has been successfully grown in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, eastern Washington and Oregon, a few southern states and Canada. Most current commercial production is located in Montana. Outside of North America, it is grown in Slovenia, Ukraine, China, Finland, Germany and Austria. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations does not track international camelina production or marketing statistics.
Camelina is a short-season crop that takes only 85 to 100 days to mature and requires as little as 11 inches of rain to produce a crop. Oilseed yields, however, increase with increased rainfall. It has typically been grown in the northwestern U.S in rotation with other short-season crops, such as wheat, barley, peas and lentils. Montana State University (MSU) recommends growing camelina in a three- or four-year crop rotation. Camelina can be a good fit for intensifying the wheat-fallow rotation in these regions as it has a short growing season, is drought and cold tolerant, and is resistant to most pests that affect other Brassica oilseed species.
Improved cultivars of camelina have been developed in Europe and a few improved cultivars have been also been released by MSU and High Plains Crop Development, LLC in Wyoming.
Camelina can be produced on marginal soils. Yields vary depending on soils and rainfall. Based on MSU research, camelina will average 1,800 to 2,200 lb/acre under 16- to 18-inch rainfalls. In other dryland research trials by MSU, camelina yields averaged 1,000 to 1,700 lb/acre. Yields drop with less rainfall and increase when using irrigation. Yields on commercial farms have been approximately 800 to 1,000 lb/acre.
Winter types of camelina are available and may have potential for adding an extra crop in central and southern regions of the USA. Fall seeding winter camelina has the added advantage of providing soil cover in the fall and early spring.
Camelina as a cover crop
Winter annual camelina can be grown as a fall-seeded cover crop, even after a full season crop like soybean or corn. Though less aggressive in its growth than rye, it can be a good alternate for early spring cover when a non-cereal cover is desired. Winter hardiness was generally not a constraint to winter survival when using the commonly available variety, ‘Joelle’, in research trials in Minnesota and North Dakota.
Management of spring camelina for oilseed production is very similar to that for spring-planted small grains or oilseed crops. Equipment needed, include a no-till drill or broadcast seeder, a cultipacker or similar implement to incorporate seed if broadcast, a combine harvester and wagons for transportation.
Camelina germinates at soil temperatures of 36-38o F, so can be planted early in the spring, similar to planting times for oats, barley and spring wheat. Camelina seeds are dense and small at 345,000 to 500,000 seeds per pound and can be broadcast or drilled. For best, consistent stands, drilling as early as possible in the spring will give better results. The suggested seeding rate per acre varies slightly among states, but averages 5 lb/acre. As with many annual cool season crops, earlier planting results in higher seed yields. Planting date studies in Montana recorded a 25% reduction of camelina’s yield potential when planting was delayed from March 15 to April 15.
No insecticides or fungicides are recommended for production. Camelina is not a highly competitive crop and performs best in fields with low weed pressure. Glyphosate may be applied preplant. Sethoxydim (Poast®), for post-emergent grass control, is the only herbicide labeled for use on an emerged camelina crop. Camelina has recently undergone evaluation for tolerance to several other herbicides so additional herbicides may be available in the future.
Projected nutrient removal for a camelina crop is 30 lb/acre nitrogen, 10 lb/acre phosphorus, 10 lb/acre potassium and 20 lb/acre sulfur. These rates, particularly for potassium and sulfur, will vary across the U.S. based on soil types and background soil test levels.
Winter camelina is planted in the fall after the harvest of the summer crop with an optimum planting date similar to that used for winter wheat for that area. Camelina is harvest before planting the soybean crop the next spring, though in a research setting, soybean was planted before full maturity of the camelina, and camelina was harvested prior to full emergence of the soybean. Some yield reduction in the soybean is likely with this tight rotation, especially if conditions are dry in early spring.
Camelina should be harvested when the pods turn yellow-brown. Camelina is less prone to pod shattering than canola, so it can be direct combined. Optimum seed moisture content for storage is 8.5%.
Camelina oil can be used as an edible oil and for biodiesel. There has been research on developing the oil for jet fuel and other high-value chemicals. At least one company, Sustainable Oils, is currently contracting with growers for the production of camelina in Montana, western Kansas and eastern Colorado for its use as a feedstock for diesel fuel production. Premiums are offered because oil from camelina has one of the lowest carbon intensity scores of diesel feedstock crop alternatives.
For food use, camelina oil can be sold as pure oil as a food supplement. The oil has a desirable 2:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, so it has been promoted for health benefits when consumed raw. Camelina oil has received FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status and is being processed and sold by at least one company (Camelina Sun) in Montana primarily as a nutritional supplement. Its fatty acid profile also makes it adaptable to high temperatures for frying, with a high smoke point of 475 degrees F, though recommendations are not to use batches of camelina oil for repeated frying.
Camelina seed meal is similar in nutritional value to soybean meal, with 35-40% protein, 6-12% oil, 6-7% ash and 41% neutral detergent fiber. The meal, however, contains anti-nutritive compounds including glucosinolates, phytic acid, condensed tannins, and sinapine, though at varying levels depending on the variety. Plant breeders believe that it is possible to select for low glucosinolate lines of camelina with traditional plant breeding methods, as was done with rapeseed in the 1970s and 1980s. This would need to be done without raising the levels of sinapine.
Camelina meal has received FDA GRAS status, so may be used as a feed ingredient in both ruminant (beef cattle and goats) and monogastric (chicken and swine) feed rations. It is pending approval as an ingredient in dairy rations.
Camelina, in the future, may also play a role in farmed fish production. Transgenic camelina expressing algal genes was used to produce an oil containing n-3 LC-PUFA to replace fish oil in salmon feeds. The oil had no detrimental effects on fish performance, metabolic responses or the nutritional quality of the fillets of the farmed fish.
Sources and Additional Background Information
Camelina for Biofuel Production, 2019. Farm Energy.
Camelina sativa in poultry diets: opportunities and challenges. 2012, Chapter 17 in, Biofuel co-products as livestock feed----opportunities and challenges, FAO.
Antinutritive Compounds in Twelve Camelina sativa Genotypes, 2012, American Journal of Plant Sciences, 3, 1408-1412.
Economics of Oilseed Crops and their Biodiesel Potential in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. 2008 (reviewed 2013). Special Report 1081, Oregon State University Extension Service.
An Analysis of On-Farm Feed and Fuel from Dryland Camelina, 2012, Journal of the ASFMRA.
Camelina: A Promising Low-Input Oilseed, 1933, New Crops, Wiley.
Sustainable Oils - Camelina: A joint venture between ag biosceince company Targeted Growth Inc. and Houston-based biofuel producer Green Earth Fuels LLC.
Camelina Sun: A company that produces dietary supplements and health products from camelina.
Camelina Production in Montana, 2008, Montana State University, Research on all fronts, from how to best grow camelina to developing end use products of the oil and meal of this unique seed, is currently underway in Montana.
Camelina Variety Trial Results, 2010, North Dakota State University.
Spring Camelina Production Guide for the Central High Plains, 2009, Blue Sun Energy.
Camelina: Effects of Planting Date and Method on Stand Establishment and Seed Yield, 2014, Oregon State University.
Oilseed Crops: Camelina, 2017, Oregon State University Extension Service.
Planting Date and Variety Effect on Winter Camelina Production, 2018, SAREC Long Reports Field Days Bulletin.
Camelina Production, South Dakota Extension Extra, 2010, SDSU Extension.
Camelina Production in the Dryland Pacific Northwest, 2012, Washington State Extension.