Omega-3 fatty acids are in high demand. Research has shown that some of their nutritional benefits include decreasing triglycerides and the risk of abnormal heartbeats, even slightly lowering blood pressure levels. But the heightened demand continues to pressure wild fish populations that are harvested to produce fish meal and fish oil for aquafeed – these are the primary sources of omega-3 fatty acids used to grow healthy (and tasty) salmon. That’s where Cargill, BASF Plant Science and Montana agriculture come in.
Together, Cargill and BASF are co-developing a renewable, plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids: canola oil. This innovative solution can be used to develop more nutritional, economical products, but also provides relief from the pressure on wild-caught fish populations. Instead of using fish oil-based aquafeed, this omega-3-fortified canola offers fish farms a more sustainable solution. In turn, food, beverage and food ingredient manufacturers can add omega-3 fatty acids to products, making them widely available to consumers. Win-win.
This all began in 2009 when Cargill and BASF joined forces to combine their strengths – Cargill’s feed and food application capabilities and BASF’s expertise in plant biotechnology – and gained traction in 2015 after Cargill purchased EWOS, a leader in the aquaculture industry. Cargill has since demonstrated that salmon raised on omega-3-enriched canola fared as well as those raised on fish oil-based aquafeed.
So how does Montana agriculture fit in? When it comes to canola, the state has the ideal growing conditions, uniquely qualified farmers and unlimited canola acreage – all of which happen to be the exact circumstances needed to get this project underway – and comply with field trial protocols. Field trials for this next-generation canola are taking place in Montana, but there’s more to gain than just serving as a testing ground. Today, the state’s agriculture industry is largely reliant on wheat and barley – two fairly successful, but inexpensive crops. By integrating specialty canola into their crop rotations, growers can anticipate healthier soil and a more diversified crop portfolio, plus traditional wheat and barley growers will see cleaner and higher crops following a canola rotation. On top of all that, with Cargill as the customer, the growers will have a ready market for their crop.
In addition to the already ideal growing conditions, Cargill and BASF are committed to upholding the highest standards of product safety, stewardship and regulatory compliance. Together, they will continue to test and learn, with the hope of beginning omega-3-enhanced canola production in the next few years. Ultimately, they believe the possibilities are expansive, ranging from aquafeed to the food and beverage industry, even pharmaceuticals. This is one collaboration that could have industry-changing impact.
Molly Jaye Barber is a communications consultant with Cargill based in Minneapolis, Minn.