New oilseeds crop grabs Saskatchewan attention

Camelina has been attracting more attention in Saskatchewan as the next potential oilseed crop for the prairies and it made a show at the 2017 Farm Progress Show in Regina in June. Elysia Vandenhurk, COO and part owner of Three Farmers company, made a presentation on Women’s Day at the farm show. Vandenhurk also spoke to the Assiniboia Times about the prospects for camelina in Saskatchewan and about her company. 

Camelina, or false flax, is well adapted to Saskatchewan growing conditions. It is highly tolerant of heat and drought, is shatter resistant and matures relatively early, making it suitable for all regions of Saskatchewan. Camelina is exclusively grown under contract and there is no open market for this crop. Producers interested in growing camelina are recommended to contact camelina production contract companies.

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The oilseed has a unique fatty acid composition. Vandenhurk praises camelina for its taste profile with light, nutty, earthy tones and its ability to be used in high temperature cooking. It can be used for bio-fuel, fish feed, bio-lubricants and as a healthy dietary oil. The jet fuel market is even looking at camelina oil as a potential opportunity. 

Her family began the Three Farmers company about a decade ago by growing camelina on a farm in Mydale and making cold-pressed camelina oil as their first product. Three Farmers were first introduced to camelina oil at a conference. It was an alternative crop to grow that worked well into their rotations for soil nutrition. But they soon learned that there was no market for it in Canada. Their research showed that camelina, an ancient grain, was used as a culinary oil for thousands of years in Europe. The Three Farmers team worked with Health Canada for 18 months through the submission, application and research process for Novel Food Status. “Once the status was approved we targeted food and marketed the product as a healthy salad and cooking oil because of its superiority in omega 3 and stability,” Vandenhurk stated.

Seven years later they have a snack line of chick peas and green peas in five different flavours. Vandenhurk is proud that her product is 100 per cent Saskatchewan made – grown on a farm in southern Saskatchewan, manufactured in Saskatoon with roasting of the peas done outside of Moose Jaw. 

Three Farmers has been focusing on branding and promoting its snacks as a nut free, gluten free superfood as it tries to cater to the urban-based Millenial generation, the largest consumers of snack food in Canada. The company has been able to place its products in independent grocers and natural foods aisles in grocery stores like Co-op, Save on Foods and Superstore. Vandenhurk noted that after a decade they are now selling in 2,000 stores coast-to-coast. 

They are always developing new products. As a Red Seal chef, Vandenhurk plays an active part in developing new products for the company. Last May they launched a camelina oil for equine use due to customer demand. They now offer the product in three sizes out of their sister company Campressco. 

Vandenhurk provided tips to the Farm Show audience about food trends, product marketing and niche markets. One of the key messages she emphasized was that dietary tastes are changing in Canada. The Farm to Fork movement demonstrates that consumers want to have a connection to all stages of food production — from growing, to harvesting, to processing and to consuming. There is a demand for edible oilseeds as well as oilseeds for bio-fuels. Vegetarian protein choices like peas and lentils have become hugely popular, especially in Eastern Canada. And values are changing too. The new youthful consumers with little time for cooking opt for healthy snacks and they want these made locally with “clean” products. Three Farmers follow sustainable farming practices. They use a chemical free mechanical process to extract the oil from the oilseeds and nuts.

Vandenhurk’s take home message for other Saskatchewan producers, especially women, is that added value farming has great potential in Saskatchewan. Her company’s success also demonstrates to others that farming companies can be sustainable and prosperous.

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