Top Crop Manager

Industrial mustard in development stages

Although five years or more from becoming a cash crop, the prospects are good for Ethiopian mustard development for industrial uses on the Prairies.

March 16, 2009  By John Dietz

Although five years or more from becoming a cash crop, the prospects are good for Ethiopian mustard development for industrial uses on the Prairies. Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada researcher Dr.Kevin Falk in Saskatoon, and Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture chair of lipid quality and utilization Martin Reaney at the University of Saskatchewan see potential in the crop as a lubricant for diesel fuel and new uses for the meal byproduct.

Breeders are about five years away from a new oilseed crop.       Photos courtesy of Dr. Kevin Falk, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.


Falk says developing germplasm in canola and related species is part of the mandate in oilseed and mustard breeding at the AAFC Saskatoon Research Centre. In the mid 1990s, a graduate student from Ethiopia introduced colleagues in Saskatoon to Brassica carinata, a plant also known as Ethiopian or Abyssinian mustard.


Once they had seen the mustard perform, Falk says, researchers believed it “showed great potential.” It is very heat and drought tolerant, and has a high shatter resistance compared to Argentine canola. The plants were also “virtually immune” to blackleg, a serious disease in canola. However, it was very late maturing, and was very high in glucosinolate. “We now have reached a point where our best material is maturing within the week of most Argentine varieties,” Falk says. Yield potential was another hurdle. Normally, yield drops as early-maturing lines are selected. “We worked hard to maintain the yield as equivalent to open-pollinated canola, and with some material, we have done that.”

New lines of industrial mustard may open up additional oilseed opportunities in arid regions.


The team also has selected hard for oil content. Oil in the original crop reached a maximum of about 30 percent. “We’ve moved our best material now to about 40 percent oil content.” Falk notes that the crop is definitely mustard-like in agronomic performance. It will not be grown in the canola belt. The crop needs hot and dry conditions that wither canola in places like Estevan, Climax, Swift Current, Maple Creek and Medicine Hat.  “Saskatoon is probably about as far north as you want to go,” he says.

A choice was made around 2002 to target this as an industrial crop rather than a food crop. “That left the door wide open,” Falk says. “We could go for high erucic acid oil or low, and a number of other oil profiles. Currently, we are working with at least three different oil profiles, each with unique characteristics. All our meal profiles are in a high glucosinolate background, targeting the bio-fumigant market.”

Looking for industrial applications
Since 2003, University of Saskatchewan and AAFC researchers have also been working to understand the chemistry of the new mustard and looking for industrial applications. “New chemistry opens up new markets,” says Martin Reaney. Both oil and meal may be used in significant new markets. The meal has the same chemistry that makes oriental mustard hot, Reaney says, and can be a ‘hot’ pesticide.

Hot mustard already is used for nematode control. Mustard Capital Inc., in Gravelbourg and Peacock Industries  from Hague, Sask., are each looking at commercial opportunities for a ‘natural’ pesticide to control grasshoppers, nematodes and possibly other pests.

The oil side of Ethiopian mustard may have as much development opportunity as canola and flax. The chemistry is similar to rapeseed before it was bred to produce canola. “We see a lot of potential for biofuels, lubricants and a few high-value components,” Reaney says. “The oils also tend to be very stable against oxidation. They don’t break down easily, they have good storability and good chemical stability.”

The product can be turned into biodiesel without affecting the food industry. Biodiesel sells to a low-value but high-volume commodity market. “It actually is fairly easy to get a product into those markets. You just have to meet the standards that are there and, happily, there are really well drawn standards as to how the fuel must perform.”

Other components in the oil however, have high value and can be extracted ahead of the biodiesel sale. “There’s a lot of Vitamin E, for instance, in these oils. There’s also potential for recovering cholesterol-lowering products,” says Reaney. “When oriental mustard is converted to biodiesel, there’s an opportunity to recover these higher value components as well as make the biodiesel.”

New registration process may speed commercial availability
The whole approach to registering varieties is being made more responsive to change with efforts underway to revise the variety registration system, says Randy Preater, program manager for the Canadian Seed Growers Association, Ottawa. These revisions could potentially aid market development for the Ethiopian mustard as well as other new crops.

“We’re hoping that, instead of the conventional ‘one size fits all’ for registering varieties, there will be a much more crop sector-specific approach in registering varieties coming out of the amendments,” Preater says. Optimistically, the changes could begin to occur in 2009.

The present system protects traditional end use markets, in part, by making it difficult to register a new niche market variety with a non-traditional end use. The planned changes, if approved, would give crop sector value chain representatives the ability to recommend registration of varieties meeting crop specific criteria.

“The crop sector value chain representatives will hopefully be able to recommend the quality management system, audit or contract requirements or whatever they consider necessary to protect the other varieties of that crop kind,” Preater says. “It’s an innovative, efficient and practical approach to regulating, and very Canadian. It provides a more flexible approach that can respond to change, while still having the third party oversight assurance of official registration.”


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