OSU Field-Tests Drought-Tolerant Oilseed

Literal field trials at Oregon State University’s experimental research station have shown that camelina, or false flax, is capable of high yield growth despite a lack of water. This could make the oilseed variety a consistent source of income for farmers, especially during times of drought when irrigation is minimal.

Full Crop on Less Than 6” of Precip

The camelina harvested at OSU in late June and early July produced a yield of over 1,500 pounds of seed per acre, despite receiving just 5.69 inches of precipitation since it was planted on November 27, 2013. No additional irrigation water was supplied. Similar results were realized in 2013 testing.

Camelina Sativa Photo credit: RL Rivierenland / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Camelina Sativa
Photo credit: RL Rivierenland / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Camelina wouldn’t necessarily be a high-value crop, but it could be a valuable source of income regardless of weather. According to Clint Shock, director of OSU’s Malheur Experiment Station and a researcher on the camelina project, stated that this yield average would put the crop’s worth at roughly $300 an acre. The average onion crop provides around $4,800 per acre.

“It’s not a high-return crop,” Shock said, “but at least something could be produced off the land with very little water.”

“Better Than Zero”

Because of drought conditions in our region, and the anticipated ensuing short water season, many farmers let large swaths of land go unused this year. In drought years like this one, camelina could be used by farmers to recoup some of the ongoing expenses related to land management and irrigation.

“You’ve got costs in your ground whether you farm it or not,” said area farmer Paul Skeen. By planting camelina, “you’re at least getting enough back to maybe pay your rent or taxes. […] Instead of leaving all that ground idle, you could plant [camelina] and make some money off of it. It’s still better than zero.”

Camelina is native to the Mediterranean region, and can be planted in the fall or very early spring. Any area growers would have a ready buyer: Willamette Biomass Processors, near Salem. WBP processes camelina into cooking oil and turns the remaining solids into a high-protein meal used to feed livestock. The plant can also be processed into biofuels.

“It’s very, very drought tolerant,” said Tomas Endicott, Vice President of Development for WBP. “The drought tolerance means it’s better suited for somewhere like Eastern Oregon.” With 8-10 inches of precipitation, Endicott estimates that a camelina crop could yield up to 2,500 pounds per acre.