Ancient crop may be a lifeline for WA farmers

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 21st October 2010

A hardy ancient Russian oilseed crop could prove a lifeline for farmers in marginal regions of WA, according to researchers at The University of Western Australia.

Camelina sativa, variously known as camelina, gold-of-pleasure, false flax, Siberian oilseed and wild flax, is a member of the mustard family and a distant relative of canola. This hardy oil plant has been grown in Europe for thousands of years, as a grain and for its edible and burnable oil. Camelina oil is also a significant source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as natural stabilising antioxidants.

Preliminary trials around WA have shown that camelina grows best on sandy soils.  More drought and frost tolerant than most other oilseed crops, it needs less fertilizers and other inputs than canola.

Director of UWA’s International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research, Professor William Erskine, said camelina’s hardiness and applications to food, cosmetic, health and energy industries made it an attractive product for farmers and consumers.

“Not only is camelina a food oil, it can also be used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as it is a good emollient with excellent moisturising properties and possible medical applications,” Professor Erskine said.

“The gluten-free seed meal can be developed into a sought-after healthy food ingredient in a growing market. In the USA, the oil is also being considered as a biofuel.

“While the oil not only looks good with a pleasant nutty flavour, it has high alpha linolenic acid (an Omega-3 fatty acid) content complemented and stabilised by natural antioxidants, such as vitamin E.”

Scientists at UWA aim to add further value to the crop through niche product development, Professor Erskine said.

The crop will be introduced to growers who may be interested in its potential place in Western Australia agriculture at a field day at AusOils in Kojonup.  The field day will include a discussion on a proposed Camelina Consortium be formed to accelerate the development of the crop from field to shelf.  Growers, processors, representatives from the seed, food, health, cosmetic and energy industries and other interested parties are welcome.