Global agribusiness giant Cargill has awarded US$2.5M to the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota to support research into two novel oilseed crops – winter camelina and domesticated winter pennycress – for use as low-carbon fuel feedstocks, World Grain wrote.

The crops would also help protect soil health, improve water quality and boost farmers’ income, the 5 February report said.

“Winter camelina and domesticated pennycress have the potential to address key sustainability challenges in agricultural supply chains, including water quality concerns and demand for low-carbon fuel feedstocks,” Cargill crop innovation director Lyle DePauw was quoted as saying.

The five-year grant would accelerate research into crop biology and management and all research results would be made public, World Grain wrote.

“This support from Cargill … will greatly advance our research and help make these crops a reality for farmers,” Forever Green Initiative associate director Mitch Hunter was quoted as saying.

Grown off-season and with few inputs, winter camelina and pennycress produced seed-based oils that could be refined into drop-in replacements for jet fuel and diesel, Hunter added.

Oil produced from the two crops could also be used in food, biopolymers and other industrial applications, and the high-protein meal could be used for animal feed, he added.

A research platform at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, the Forever Green Initiative is researching a portfolio of more than 15 new perennial and winter-annual crops, which could be integrated with common Midwest crops such as corn, soyabeans and wheat to help farmers grow crops all year round – a strategy known as “continuous living cover” agriculture.

A recent report – published by Forever Green and its partners Friends of the Mississippi River and EcoTone Analytics – titled ‘Putting Down Roots’ estimated that, with widespread adoption in Minnesota, continuous living cover agriculture could reduce nitrogen loss from farmland by 23% and soil erosion by 35% by 2050.

According to the report, a shift to continuous living cover could also lead to a 20% increase in farm profits.

Winter camelina and pennycress were forecast to be planted on more than 2.02ha (5M acres) by 2050, the report said.