Growing Camelina (Camelina sativa) in Western South Dakota

Progress report for FNC20-1256

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $9,641.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Walker Farm
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Our farm consists of approximately 630 acres in Butte County, South Dakota, lying in two separate units. The north unit contains 200 acres of center-pivot irrigated cropland which is included in the Belle Fourche Irrigation District. A 160-acre dryland parcel lies adjacent to the irrigated fields. Soils on this unit are diverse and intermingled, including fine sandy loams, silty clay loams, loams, and clays. The lighter-textured soils are located in the irrigated fields. Cropping history has primarily consisted of forages, including alfalfa, alfalfa-grass mixes, sorghum-Sudangrass, millet and oats, as well as corn for silage. Occasionally, grains have been combined. The south unit consists of 168 acres, of which approximately 100 acres are irrigated with a flood system using gated pipe. Irrigation water is supplied by the Redwater Irrigating Association. Soils on this unit are predominantly clays, with various small inclusion areas of other soil types. Crops have included corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa and alfalfa/grass mixes. This unit is intersected by approximately ¼ mile of the Belle Fourche River, and consists of several small fields. Both units have been intermittently grazed by livestock, almost exclusively during the winter season.

The farm is owned and operated by Arthur and Jennifer Walker, who have been farming in Butte County since purchasing the south unit in 1993. Art has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from New Mexico State University and an Associate’s Degree in Forestry from Northern New Mexico Community College. His work history includes forestry as well as full-time farming. Jenny is currently employed as Geospatial Ecologist with the U. S. Bureau of Land Management, where she has been employed since 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Range Science from New Mexico State University, a Master of Natural Resources from the University of Idaho, and a PhD in Atmospheric and Environmental Science from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Her work history also includes ten years as a middle school science teacher.


Camelina is a crop with a long history of cultivation, which has attracted attention as a source of oil for biofuel.  More recently, as the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in human health have been recognized, the favorable ratios of these lipids in camelina oil have caused an increased interest in the crop.  In addition to these market factors, the unique characteristics of the camelina plant suggest that it could provide soil health and agronomic benefits in sustainable agricultural systems.  The development of winter varieties of camelina add to its attractiveness in addressing important needs for farmers in western South Dakota.  This project will explore the potential role of winter camelina as a rotational crop in western South Dakota by evaluating its compatibility with existing cropping systems, investigating its contribution to selected ecosystem services, and comparing its agronomic niche with that of winter wheat.  Metrics evaluated will include soil health effects, plant phenology relative to suitability for rotation with locally important crops, and use by pollinators and wildlife.

Project Objectives:

Short term

  1. Test the suitability of winter camelina for growing in western South Dakota.
  2. Compare winter camelina with winter wheat for of soil health objectives and suitability for rotation with other planned forage crops
  3. Evaluate the use of winter camelina by pollinators and wildlife
  4. Document costs and yields of local camelina production

Long term (well beyond the life of this grant)

  1. Explore the potential profitability of establishing a small oil pressing facility in western South Dakota
  2. Explore the potential for commercial production and marketing of aquaculture feeds (specifically for rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon) using camelina oil and camelina meal


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Materials and methods:

The objective of the project is to evaluate the performance of winter camelina as a cover crop for western South Dakota, and its value as a complement to winter wheat.  Therefore, test plots of each crop will be planted adjacent to one another, ensuring soil conditions are as uniform as possible.  Paired plots will be placed in irrigated and dryland fields.  Sub-plot will be approximately 5 acres in size, for a total of 10 acres of camelina and 10 acres of winter wheat (20 acres total) on the Walker farm, and 10 acres of each (20 acres total) on the Durr farm.  Plots will be mapped using ArcGIS, which will also be used to establish locations for soil sample collection and transects for growing-season observations to ensure non-biased sampling results. GPS will be used to navigate to GIS-generated locations. 

  • Variety will be Joelle, assuming seed availability
  • Seeding rate will be 8 pounds per acre. 
  • Irrigation is by center-pivot sprinkler system, and will be done as needed throughout the season on the irrigated plots.
  • Planting will be accomplished with a no-till drill, leased from the Butte Conservation District.  The no-till seedbed preparation will consist of pre-plant weed control using glyphosate herbicide.
  • Field day will be held prior to harvest, showing all plots
Research results and discussion:

Research activities have barely begun, because the season is not yet fully underway.  Photo transects have been done.

The project is proceeding more or less as planned. All crops were planted on both farms as planned in September 2020. Photo transects are being conducted.

The winter was challenging for fall-seeded crops due to severe drought and lack of snow cover, as well as a period of extreme cold. For this reason, some winterkill is expected. However, the crops will be allowed to continue growing, and results will be reported.

The pandemic did not cause significant disruption to this project.

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Outreach activities have not yet begun.

Learning Outcomes

Lessons Learned:

As of the spring of 2021, we have already learned a lot from this project.  This has been an unusual year in many ways, including exceptional drought and several weeks of extreme cold during the winter.  We have been regularly scouting the fields planted for this project, observing the responses of the camelina and winter wheat to the challenges of the growing season.  

Both crops have survived the winter, with the apparent exception of some bald patches in both crops.  Some possible reasons for the poor performance of some areas of the fields:

  • Winter kill and moisture stress
  • Variability in planting depth
  • Predation by wild geese, many of which have been spending time in the field
  • Insect damage, observed especially in the camelina.

It is still early in the development of both crops.  It will be interesting to see how their development differs as the season progresses.

Project Outcomes

2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Success stories:

It is too early to report on the success of this project, except to note that in general, both the camelina and the winter wheat did survive a difficult (exceptionally dry with periods of extreme cold) winter.  We are eager to see how both crops perform as the season progresses.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.