Winter Camelina

MBOLD Camelina initiative

winter camelina plot on St. Paul campus  

Winter Camelina Field Day

June 11, 2019
camelina biodiesel





Winter Camelina (Camelina sativa L.) can offer environmental and economic benefits similar to field pennycress. Winter camelina yields up to 1,700 lbs seed  per acre in Minnesota (~20 to 34 bushels/acre) and does not have the high levels of anti-nutritional glucosinolate and erucic acid characteristic of some other mustard seeds. Winter camelina seed typically contains around 38 to 42% oil by weight, of which 32 to 38% of its total oil is composed of omega-3 (linolenic) fatty acid, and it contains high levels of vitamin E that exceeds that of soybean oil. Camelina oil can be used as a healthy alternative cooking oil, as well as renewable aviation fuel and biodiesel. Winter camelina seed meal that remains after extracting its oil is approved as a supplement for livestock feed up to 10% by weight of total feed ration for beef cattle and broiler chickens in the United States. 

Currently, there is a need to breed winter camelina for improved seed yield and earlier maturity to optimize its use as a winter annual cover crop. 





The vast majority of biotypes held in seed banks around the world are spring type, rather than the winter biotype that is of interest for use as a cover crop in northern climates. There has been a significant amount of breeding activity on the spring biotype, but relatively little on winter types. We are currently evaluating the winter biotypes that are present in seedbanks in the US, Canada, Austria, and Poland with more seeds coming soon from Russia. We are also testing the expression of the FLC gene controlling flowering in winter and spring biotypes to determine its role in differentiating the two types. Our goal is to develop high-oil-content, high-yielding winter type lines. Other traits under selection will include earliness, reduced seed shattering, flood tolerance, and larger nectaries. C. sativa is an allohexaploid (2n=6x=40) in the Brassicaceae family and is unique in that two of its subgenomes have seven chromosomes and its other subgenome has six (Kagale et al. 2014). This is an opportune time for working with new domesticates, including polyploids because of the major advances in gene sequencing and molecular tools that are applicable to plant breeding. 

We have launched a breeding program for winter camelina at the University of Minnesota to develop camelina varieties that are winter hardy and early maturing, with improved seed size and reduced seed shatter. The fact that winter camelina is an allohexaploid species will make it more challenging to work with than diploids, like pennycress, so we are fortunate to have someone with many years of experience breeding an allohexaploid species on our team – Dr. Jim Anderson who breeds wheat. A germplasm evaluation trial consisting of 423 winter and spring camelina accessions was planted in autumn 2015. This trial and a replicated trial planned for spring 2016 will determine which accessions are winter biotypes, as the winter biotype is best suited for the double-cropping and relay-planting systems in the Upper Midwest.  The winter biotype accessions will be evaluated further for plant basal width, vigor, and percent emergence and will become the foundation of the UMN camelina breeding program.  





Similar to pennycress, Camelina is a close relative of Arabidopsis, and much of the information gleaned from decades of basic research on Arabidopsis can be directly translated to improve Camelina. There has been significant work throughout North America on improving Camelina as a spring annual crop, whereas we are targeting winter annual lines. Fortunately, we are still able to utilize the resources already developed, including a sequenced genome and genetic linkage map datasets in our work on winter Camelina.





Integration of field pennycress and camelina in a field corn production system

The objectives are to i) determine optimal corn stover removal rates and subsequent impacts to soil carbon and oilseed productivity, ii) assess the role planting date and seed dormancy plays in establishment and yield for both the oilseeds and subsequent soybean yield along with providing critical information to the breeding/genetics researchers for future directions. Both objectives were designed with the express goal of increasing oilseed production in a double-cropped soybean system. Beyond determining the agronomic practices that increase the profitability and sustainability of Minnesota farmers, this project was designed to strengthen linkages between breeding/genetics and crop production faculty by providing a field orientated context to test and exchange ideas, along with offering interdisciplinary training to our graduate students. To successfully test objective one, corn stover gradients were achieved by removing a portion of the stover. Oilseed growth characteristics will be assessed throughout the season along with measuring soil organic C which provides an indirect assessment of soil health. Winter oilseed production is expected to be hampered by increasing corn stover rates, whereas, the soil organic C pool is expected to increase or at least be greater in the higher stover rates. The role of planted date and seed dormancy will be determined via field studies utilizing oilseed lines of varying dormancy coupled with gibberellin (i.e. removes dormancy) all interseeded into standing corn.

Double and relay cropping systems

To date, research has shown that winter camelina can be double- and relay-cropped with soybean and other summer crops to produce two crops in a single season on the same land. For the relay system, the soybean is planted in the spring at a near normal time between rows of camelina. This timing corresponds to just before or at the time when camelina begins bolting. Subsequently, the camelina is harvested over the top of soybean in mid to late June when soybean is at the V2-V3 stage. Using the relay system, soybean yields are achievable that  are 85% of those of a full-season monocrop soybean. Camelina is relatively cheap to produce, and the net economic returns (outputs minus inputs) for the combined seed yields of camelina and soybean in a relay crop system are as high or higher than those of a full-season soybean crop. Furthermore, the relay system of camelina + soybean can produce around 130 gallons of oil per acre, compared to about 60 gallons/acre for a sole full-season soybean crop.

Cropping systems water use

Water use can be a major issue when growing a cover crop, especially when both the cover crop and primary crop are grown to maturity for harvest. Some cover crops such as winter rye, if not terminated early enough, can limit the amount of soil water available for the following or primary crop. Research has shown that double- and relay-cropping winter camelina and soybean, indeed, does use more water than a single full-season soybean crop, but only about 1 to 2 inches more. Plus, most of this water is used early in the growing season when there is often an excess of moisture on MN’s agricultural landscapes (i.e., early to late spring).

Ecosystem services

Research also has shown that during the fall, winter camelina can adsorb and store up to 70 lbs/acre of nitrogen fertilizer left behind by the previous cereal crop, such as corn. This is nitrogen that otherwise might be leached from the soil into ground water, washed into nearby wetlands, or volatilized into the atmosphere before planting the next summer crop. Additional N is adsorbed in spring as plant growth resumes.

Winter camelina flowers as early as late April through May, when few other plants on the MN agricultural landscape are blooming. This coincides with the return of honey bees to MN, ND, and SD from CA and other states where they are used for their pollination services. During the summer, MN, ND, and SD are home to over one-third of the nation’s bee colonies. Winter camelina flowers can provide enough nectar (100 lbs/A of sugar) and pollen (20 lbs/acre) to bolster the health and abundance of both honey bees and native pollinators at a time when bee keepers normally have to feed their bees less healthy, artificial diets that may contribute to “colony collapse disorder,” which is a major issue in the bee keeping industry.

effect of winter camelina on benefical insects and monarch butterfly on camelina

Left: Beneficial insects' attraction to winter camelina
Right: Monarch butterfly visits winter camelina flower Photo by Jim Eklund





James Anderson, Research Chemist, USDA-ARS, Fargo, ND

Jim Anderson, Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Clay Carter, Professor, Department of Plant Biology

Kevin DornPost Doctoral Research Associate, Kansas State University

Frank Forcella, Research Agronomist, USDA-ARS, Morris, MN

Axel Garcia y Garcia, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Russ Gesch, Research Plant Physiologist, USDA-ARS, Morris, MN

Cody Hoerning, Research Assistant, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Rod Larkins, Director of Research, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute

David Marks, Professor, College of Biological Sciences

Reagan Noland, Research Assistant, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Matthew Ott, Research Assistant, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

M. Scott Wells, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Don Wyse, Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics




External Partners

Albert Lea Seed House

Gandy Agri-turf equipment




Boyle, C., Hansen, L., Hinnenkamp, C., Ismail*, B. (2018). Emerging camelina protein: Extraction, modification and structural/functional characterization. J Am Oil Chem Soc. DOI 10.1002/aocs.12045

Papers and Oral Presentations:

1. Boyle, C. Ismail B. (2017). Optimization of Protein Extraction from Camelina Seeds and Characterization of the Extracted Protein. Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting, June 2017, Las Vegas, NV. (1st place Protein Division Oral Competition).