The ITAKA project has allowed implementing four large scale camelina campaigns (more than 15,000 hectares sown in total) from autumn 2012 to summer 2016, in semi-arid dryland regions in Spain as well as, two campaigns in a lower scale (200 ha), in Romania. These four harvests have been processed in existing agricultural infrastructure in Spain for the production of camelina oil.
The different large scale camelina campaigns have allowed drawing many conclusions and lessons learnt for the development of a sustainable camelina value chain in Spain and Europe. The following issues have been identified, mostly related to the agricultural expansion of the crop, but also to the industrial process for the oil production:
Commercial herbicide approval for camelina plantations has been identified as one of the major barriers for camelina crop expansion from a technical point of view. Based on the ITAKA project results, Spain has initiated the approved different commercial herbicides, both for broad and narrow leaf weeds.
The excess of impurities in camelina harvest hampers the cleaning process, making it more time consuming and less efficient. It is highly recommended to keep such harvest impurities as low as possible, through an adequate weed control as well as proper combine regulation.
Crop introduction issues
Camelina is a crop with high hardiness and adaptability produced with low agricultural inputs. However, as land quality is generally very poor in arid dryland regions, adequate fertilization becomes a key issue for the success of camelina plantations.
Farmers in arid dryland regions in Spain are not always used to perform background fertilization due to climatic variability, minimizing this way the risk in case of drought. This habit becomes apparent when farmers cultivate a new crop, unknown to them. During the introduction of camelina in a new region, it is necessary to select professional farmers that understand the specificities related to camelina cultivation and are willing to follow recommendations regarding minimum land quality and fertilization protocols.
Large scale camelina plantations
Camelina is an oilseed crop that can be sustainably grown by farmers replacing fallow land in Europe. The crop shows better performance in semi-arid regions than other major oilseed crops grown in Europe (such as rapeseed and sunflower, that in those areas cannot substitute the fallow period), mainly due to its drought and frost tolerance.
The ITAKA project has deployed large scale camelina plantations during 4 consecutive agronomic campaigns (2012-2016). During such period, there have been various weather conditions: winter and spring droughts as well as unusual rainy harvest conditions. Camelina plantations have been cultivated in a wide range of climatic and soil conditions. Camelina yield has varied from 500 to 2,500 kg per hectare, depending on the cultivation and weather conditions.
Given such wide variation, the ITAKA project has closely monitored different camelina plantations, collecting both camelina data and barley data from the same farmer, in order to define a suitable correlation between both crops. Barley has been chosen as it is the crop most commonly cultivated in Spain in the areas where camelina has been introduced. Barley yields in these areas have varied from 800 kg/ha to almost 5,000 kg/ha, evidencing the difference in cultivation conditions between the areas and farmers.
The overall result is that a farmer, with barley yields from 2,000 to 4,000 kg/ha on average, following ITAKA’s optimized camelina agronomic protocol can expect a camelina yield of approximately 50% that of barley yield in his farming plots. This means that a farmer harvesting 3,000 kg/ha of barley in a given year should expect a camelina harvest of 1,500 kg/ha. As camelina is a hardy crop, this correlation increases for low yielding areas (below 2,000 kg/ha), where the expected camelina yield can increase up to 70% compared to barley yield.