Oilseed crops such as flax and camelina are growing and blooming again at the Mellinger Farm in Wooster, Ohio, thanks to an Ohio State University research project that seeks to evaluate their many uses, including as animal feed and biofuel.
The 324-acre farm was donated in 2002 to the Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, which is the research arm of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences.
Along with canola and sunflower, the crops will be evaluated in terms of their growth characteristics, yield, oil content and animal feed quality. They will also be studied for their benefits to ecosystems, including floral resources for pollinators, bio-control for pests and soil conditioning.
"Oilseed crops could offer many benefits to diversified farms," said Hannah Whitehead, the research assistant coordinating the project. "They have the potential to add complexity to crop rotations, provide valuable ecosystem services and deliver additional value chains in the form of on-farm biodiesel, cooking oil and highly nutritious feed for animals."
In addition to its fibers, flax is valuable for its seeds, which have a high oil content, can be consumed by people and livestock and can be pressed to produce linseed oil. Linseed oil is used in a variety of products, including wood finishes, paints and linoleum. It is also consumed as a nutritional supplement due to its high level of omega-3 fatty acids.
Camelina is a less common crop that has only recently received research interest as it is being rediscovered for its nutritional value and potential as a biofuel. A cool-weather crop long cultivated in Eastern Europe, camelina was maligned elsewhere in Europe and in the U.S. as a weed that grew voluntarily in flax fields.
The oilseed demonstration and evaluation project is being conducted in collaboration with Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative, which is collecting complementary data in plots on its research farm in La Farge, Wis. The cooperative is especially interested in longer crop rotations with more diverse crops for its member farms, as well as the additional on-farm value that oilseed crops could offer, Whitehead said.
"We're hoping to get a picture of the economic and ecological benefits that these crops could provide to an integrated farming system, including and beyond seed oil," Whitehead said.