The hardy properties of Camelina sativa give it lots of potential for growing in Canada. It’s tolerant to frost and drought, doesn’t mind cool germination temperatures, thrives in marginal soils, and matures in a short 85 to 100 days, ideal even for northern Saskatchewan or Alberta.
Also known as “false flax” or “wild flax,” camelina is most wanted for its oil but now, 100 years after being introduced to North America, the mustard plant is being re-discovered and re-evaluated as livestock feed, fuelled by close to $3.7 million in funding initiatives to develop market ready varieties.
Rob Patterson is the technical director for Canadian Bio-Systems Inc., a company that researches, develops and manufactures a wide range of products used in food, feed, industrial and environmental applications. Speaking to the Poultry Industry Council (PIC) Innovations Symposium, Patterson explained how camelina had historically been replaced in modern poultry diets by rapeseed and canola but is now experiencing a resurgence due to its multiple uses as a source of omega-3 oil as well as its potential in biofuels, high-end bio-lubricants and plastics and even jet fuel.
Several recent studies have been conducted to re-establish baseline feeding levels and nutritional recommendations for camelina meal in poultry diets. Cold pressed, non-solvent extracted oil cake was approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in 2015 for use in feed up to 12 per cent for broilers only; camelina is not yet approved for use in layers or pigs.
How does camelina meal compare to canola meal? Using numbers from the canola feeding guide, Patterson pointed to camelina having a higher Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF) and Acid Detergent Fibre (ADF) value than canola, but a comparable amino acid spectrum. At 12 per cent fat, camelina meal was a good energy source, compared to canola meal at 3 per cent fat due to oil extraction. The percentage of favorable linoleic and linolenic acid (omega-3) is quite high (39 per cent), but there are also some glucosinolate compounds present, similar to those in rapeseed, that are common to the brassica family and may cause feed refusals. Patterson suggested that more research and breeding work is needed to ensure this issue doesn’t put constraints on the diet.
One study at the Atlantic Poultry Research Centre in Truro, N.S., found that gain in broilers dropped off as camelina inclusion reached 15 per cent of the diet, suggesting the defining line was somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent. Feed refusal resulted in less feed being consumed and therefore less growth, but feed conversion rates stayed the same. Patterson suggests that the 12 per cent cap on camelina inclusion may be unrealistic, recommending somewhere between five and 10 per cent.
As an omega-3 enrichment factor, camelina meal has potential but it’s not there yet, especially with the 12 per cent inclusion rate cap. To label a product as omega-3 enriched requires a level of 300 milligrams per 100 grams of meat. Even with enzyme supplementation, one study in 2015 by Nairn et al. at the University of Alberta could not reach that level with 12 per cent inclusion of camelina, although they did reach the enrichment level in thigh meat by day 42 with 16 per cent inclusion. In the U.S., camelina can be included up to 10 per cent on broiler and layer diets in omega-3 enriched programs but the U.S. omega-3 level of claim is lower.
Camelina oil has higher vitamin E levels than flax oil, meaning a longer shelf life, and it could be more effective than flax for meat enhancement, but Patterson doesn’t see camelina as a viable alternative to flax at this time. The caps to the usage of camelina in poultry diets as he sees them are with the limit to the level of inclusion and regulatory constraints at this time.
While he hopes to explore new opportunities with layers within the next year, indicating there is potential there, he regards it as a niche with limited opportunity that is not set to grow much unless producers are spurred by market demand to use camelina as a replacement for flax or genetically modified canola.