Winter camelina as a cover crop
Winter camelina is a winter-hardy annual brassica that produces a valuable oilseed crop. It’s an emerging crop for the Upper Midwest.
About winter camelina
The Forever Green Initiative winter oilseeds team has shown that winter camelina is economically viable and can provide ecosystem services. It can yield up to 1,700 pounds per acre and contains around 38 to 42 percent oil by weight, along with the high levels of omega-3 (linolenic) fatty acid and high levels of vitamin E.
Winter camelina does not carry undesirable traits as some of the other mustard seeds, which would make it more acceptable for the market. Camelina oil is also known to be used as a healthy alternative cooking oil, and renewable aviation fuel.
Use as a cover crop
Many agricultural practices can affect environmental conditions by depleting pollinator populations and diminishing soil quality. To overcome some of these ecological issues, one solution is using cover crops such as winter camelina, field pennycress and intermediate wheatgrass (Figure 1).
These winter crops can suppress herbicide-resistant weeds in the spring, and take up remaining nitrogen or phosphorus in the fall and spring. Introducing winter camelina with its economic benefits could enhance agricultural crop diversity, productivity and can also positively influence the population of beneficial insects.
However, it’s important to understand winter camelina’s agronomics before implementing it in your agricultural system.
Peer-reviewed scientific journals have highlighted the benefits of camelina as a cover crop, showcasing several research experiments. These experiments sought to optimize the fall establishment, grain yield and oil quality of winter camelina into corn and soybean cropping systems.
Research has shown you can use winter camelina for double or relay cropping systems with full seasonal crops such as soybean and corn.
Figure 2 shows examples of relay cropping systems using winter camelina as a cover crop. For the relay system (Figure 2), plant the soybean or corn in the spring at a near-normal time between rows of camelina. For the double cropping system, plant the soybean or corn after the cover crop harvest.
One study found that relay cropping systems with soybean and camelina yielded greater than double cropping systems (Figure 3). Researchers also suggested relay cropping of winter camelina with soybean is agronomically viable for the upper Midwest and might attract farmers seeking a cash cover crop with limited inputs.
A follow-up study examined the environmental impact of double and relay cropping systems with winter camelina. Environmental aspects studied focused mainly on global warming, abiotic depletion, acidification and toxicity.
Researchers found that the dual cropping systems increased both the primary productivity per unit area and biodiversity as well as reduced soil erosion. Although these systems provided higher productivity per unit area, carbon emissions were higher due to increased diesel used for planting and harvesting.
The researchers recommend that farmers consider adopting such practices, due to the increased system productivity and environmental benefits.
After the potential economic and environmental benefits of using winter camelina as a cover crop became understood, another study sought to identify appropriate planting dates for camelina to prevent competition for resources with the primary crops.
Authors highlighted that camelina establishment was best when sown after the harvest of primary crops.
The next wave of research will expand on this study to include:
Harvest management for optimal oilseed grain yield, soybean yield and oil quality.
Predicting optimal harvest timing to improve oilseed grain yield and quality.
Determining optimal planting date and seeding rate of winter annual oilseeds into R6 corn.
Berti, M., Johnson, B., Ripplinger, D., Gesch, R., & Aponte A. (2017). Environmental impact assessment of double- and relay- cropping with winter camelina in the northern Great Plains, USA. Agricultural Systems, 156, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2017.05.012
Berti M., Samarappuli D., Johnson B.L., & Gesch R.W. (2017). Integrating winter camelina into maize and soybean cropping systems. Industrial Crops & Products. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2017.06.014
Gesch R.W., Archer D.W., & Berti M. (2014). Dual cropping winter camelina with soybean in the northern corn belt. Agronomy Journal, 106, 1735-1745. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.2134/agronj14.0215