Camelina meal approved for feedlot cattle

By Susanne Retka Schill | December 21, 2009
Camelina cleared another hurdle for its future success and adoption as a new biodiesel feedstock. The North American Camelina Trade Association announced Nov. 10 that it received approval from the Center for Veterinary Medicine, a department of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for the use of camelina meal in the diets of feedlot beef cattle up to 10 percent of the weight of the total ration. It had been approved a couple of years ago for inclusion in beef rations up to 2 percent. With 94.5 million head of beef cattle in the U.S. and Canada fed an average of 18 pounds daily, a 10 percent inclusion rate promises substantial new market potential.

"Opening up the feedlot beef market for camelina meal feeding opportunities is a tremendous step in building a strong, long-term market for camelina production," said Scott Johnson, president of NACTA. "Increasing the number of markets for the most significant coproduct of camelina oil production ensures growers the ability to drive additional revenue from the crop beyond just oil."

Camelina meal has already received approval from the FDA for broiler chicken feed, up to 10 percent of the weight of the total ration. The broiler feeding study was the first funded by NACTA, through a grant from the Montana Department of Agriculture. NACTA will continue working to obtain certification from the FDA for additional market segments such as laying hens, swine and dairy. "Camelina meal is an excellent source of protein and, with the growing demand for biofuels made from camelina oil, it is extremely important that our producers have multiple coproduct outlets," Johnson said. The study on camelina use in laying hen rations is nearing completion and soon to be submitted to the FDA. "We expect this to occur [soon] and then go through a review process that takes about six to eight weeks," he said. Once the laying hen study is submitted, the next target is a feeding study for swine. NACTA and member companies are working on Canadian approval as well.

Great Plains-the Camelina Co. has been selling all of its camelina meal for poultry rations. "It has done quite well," Sam Huttenbauer Jr., chief development officer, reported. The company is looking forward to the completion of the FDA egg layer studies. "Our intent is to demonstrate camelina meal will be a good source to produce Omega 3 eggs," he said. Camelina meal is very close to the value of soybean meal in all uses, he added. While camelina meal has around 82 or 83 percent of the protein value of soy meal, its value goes up when the energy content is factored in. The mechanical expellers used to extract camelina oil leave oil in the meal, he explained, which reduces the percentage of protein content. The presence of the oil, however, increases the energy content and is the source of Omega 3 and vitamin E. "We've applied for use of the meal in turkeys and ducks, and I'm sure dairy will soon be applied for as well," Huttenbauer said. "We're getting a lot of requests."
FDA-approved testing protocols will have to be followed to insure no harmful substances are carried through the cows into the milk, and to establish whether the Omega 3 content of the milk is enhanced. "The potential of Omega 3 is of great interest in dairy," Huttenbauer said. Previous studies have indicated that meat from chickens fed Omega 3-enriched meals contain Omega 3 fatty acids, resulting in healthier meat for human consumption. If further research confirms the health benefits camelina meal provides, Great Plains believes that cattle fed camelina meal could be marketed as a premium branded product. "We're at the beginning of learning the amazing uses for this plant," Huttenbauer said.

Other hurdles have been cleared for the new crop as well, including catastrophic crop insurance. "We really need to work toward a comprehensive crop insurance program similar to what is available for other commodities," Johnson added. One grass control herbicide is available for use in camelina, and work continues on other weed control measures as well as continuing research on agronomic practices. "In addition, it's critical for the crop to have access to efficient logistics and crushing to fill the demand that we are creating for the crop," Johnson said. Plantings of camelina are expected to approach 100,000 acres this year, which is considered a major milestone towards full commercialization of the new crop.

NACTA was formed in February 2009 by 13 camelina seed companies, processors and researchers. Johnson, president of Sustainable Oils Inc., serves as president of the trade association; Craig Parker, CEO, Willamette Biomass Processors Inc., is treasurer; and David King, Great Plains, is secretary. The association works to promote research, production and the development of new markets for camelina.

Camelina sativa is a member of the mustard family and a distant relative of canola. It is a fast-growing, short-seasoned crop that produces good yields on modest rainfall, and is a low-input crop that fits well into crop rotations without displacing the primary food crops. In Montana, where camelina development got its start more than a decade ago, it promises to become a needed rotational crop in wheat/fallow systems. It is harvested early enough in the summer to allow soil moisture recharge, replacing fallow in dry-land rotations. The brassica crop also provides a rotational benefit, boosting yields of the following wheat crop. Its high oil content and other properties make it a great fit for biofuel production. Its high sustainability profile made it a candidate for the high-profile biofuel blend tests in the aviation industry this past year.
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