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Crambe

AG0647
Farm Diversification Information Service (Bendigo) & Geoff Castleman (Walpeup)
September 2002

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This Agriculture Note provides information on Crambe and the industry.

Product

Crambe (Crambe abyssinica) is a broadacre oilseed crop that produces inedible oil that has a number of industrial uses. The crambe plant is a multi-branched annual that usually grows to less than 1meter in height. Crambe species (of which there are several) originate mostly from the Mediterranean. The noticeably much branched plant supports yellow-white coloured flowers on long racemes. Flowers produce single greenish-brown seeds that are encapsulated in fawn coloured capsules.

In the Victorian Mallee, oil content of the grain has been shown to vary from 36-43% with erucic acid content of the oil ranging from 55-60%. Intermediate product derived form high erucic acid oil include: triglycerides; erucamides; amines, behenic acid; erucyl alcohol; behenyl alcohol; wax esters; fatty acids; brassylic acid and pelargonic acid. These products are used to manufacture a multitude of industrial consumer items such as lubricants; heat transfer fluids; surfactants and coatings; cosmetics; polyesters; plastics and nylons.

Crambe meal left after the oil is extracted has some potential as a stock food but it needs to be processed. The meal contains 45-58% protein (with the pod removed) and a well-balanced amino acid content and in the USA it is approved to use with ruminant animals for up to 5% of the daily intake. It is not recommended for non-ruminant animals.

The high-erucic acid content is the major attraction for this new crop, as this compound is important in the production of new generation, high strength, high performance plastics. Traditionally, the old varieties of rapeseed were the major source of erucic acid.

Crambe should be grown in isolation to canola to minimise contamination. The preferred method of production is to plant Crambe on a contract basis so as to minimise on farm contamination. Usually cross-pollination with canola is not a problem if correct management practices are adhered to.

There is potential for Crambe to replace the high erucic acid rapeseed varieties, in the traditional oilseed producing regions, if there is sufficient industry interest and participation.

In recent years, there has been a lot of development work in USA to find alternative uses for the oil and to increase the productivity from the crop. Here in Australia it is still an experimental crop and it has been under test for a number of years in the Wimmera and Mallee areas of Victoria.

Physical requirements

The crop is suited to the major grain growing areas of southern Australia. It requires 90-100 days from planting to harvesting and can tolerate cool temperatures and drought conditions.

Crambe likes well-drained fertile soils with pH 6-7. Like most broad acre crops it will not tolerate heavy soils that are prone to waterlogging.

Being related to rapeseed and mustard, it is similar to these plants and can be grown with normal cropping machinery used for oilseed production.

Production

Crambe is normally sown in autumn into a fine seedbed, using a conventional seeder that plant 15-20 cm rows. USA results show that planting depth is critical to obtaining a good yield. In the drier areas, it is recommended that the sowing depth be about 2-2.5 cm at a seeding rate of about 15kg/ha.

Fertiliser requirements will obviously depend on the fertility but it does require phosphorous, potassium and especially nitrogen. Like all oilseed crop, weeds can reduce yields so it should be planted into a weed free seedbed and, if the crop gets a good start, then this will effectively control any subsequent weed growth. The two diseases reported from the USA that can affect the crop are the Alternaria brassicicola fungus and the turnip mosaic virus. Aphids can also attack the crop.

Crambe is ready for harvest after all the leaves have dropped from the plant and the seedpods and branches have turned a straw colour, usually 90-100 days after planting. The crop is harvested with a normal combine, adjusted for the characteristic small lightweight seed. Yields vary with reports of 1200-2000kg/ha being reasonable results in commercial areas.

Marketing

Currently there is no demand here in Australia but in USA there is a developing market. It is still in the experimental stage here but if the worldwide demand increases, it could be another potential crop for our oilseed producers. In 1992, it was estimated that there were about 10,000ha grown in USA and production at that stage indicated that this could quickly grow to 30-40,000 ha. Since the mid 1990s, production has been chequered. In North Dakota, USA in 1996, 16,000 ha of Crambe was estimated to yield 7-9 million kg of oil

Financial aspects

As there are no markets, it is impossible to give any figures for potential returns from Crambe. Production costs are similar to other oilseed crops such as canola.

Organisations & Contacts

Department of Primary Industries - Horsham
Phone: 03 53 622 111
Wayne Burton- E-mail: wayne.burton@nre.vic.gov.au
Steve Marcroft - E-mail: steve.marcroft@nre.vic.gov.au

References

Acknowledgments
Ian Knox


The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.



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This document was reviewed on 15/09/2004.