About a dozen P.E.I. farmers are growing about 550 hectares of an oilseed crop called crambe this summer.
The seeds are processed at a plant in Kensington owned by Nature's Crops International and the oil is shipped around the world.
Staff at Nature's Crops admit not many Islanders know very much about crambe.
"The general public, not very much. It's better recognized in the cosmetic industry within skin creams, emollients, moisturisers, treatments like that," said T.J. McGeown, quality control manager at Nature's Crops since the company opened on P.E.I. in 2010.
"It'll go into hundreds of products all over the world. We sell to some very large distributors."
This is the 12th crop for Nature's Crops International since setting up on P.E.I.
McGeown said demand for crambe oil is strong right now, which means even more room for P.E.I. farmers to grow the crop.
"It seems to be quite a good option for fitting into regular rotations, especially this year, some new growers approached us," McGeown said.
"Because we're seeing increased demand, we do continually look for new growers and new opportunities."
Crambe is being grown this year in fields in Crapaud, Stanchel, Souris, Belle River, Miscouche and Kensington.
Garth Cole, crop manager for Nature's Crops, said one of the advantages of crambe is that it grows quickly, just 90 days from planting to harvest, making it more appealing than some later crops.
"Some dropped a bit of soybeans just because of the bad weather in the fall, they've had trouble getting them," Cole said.
"It's earlier than corn and earlier than potatoes, so that helps."
Last year, however, the crop took a hit from post-tropical storm Dorian. "The wind and the rain pounded it right into the ground and it would have been in swaths, most of it, but it pounded it down," Cole said.
"It made it impossible to pick it back up and a lot of it stayed on the ground."
Cole said about three-quarters of the crambe crop was affected by Dorian.
Those growers are now part of a compensation claim submitted by P.E.I. to the federal government.
'Diversify our risk'
This is the second year growing crambe for Duane MacDonald.
"I was looking for another crop to blend into my rotation. I'm familiar with growing canola and crambe is similar and I already have that equipment," MacDonald said.
"The canola market was in a bit of turmoil because of China, and I wanted to try something that might be a little more stable."
MacDonald said his potato fields are extremely dry this summer so he appreciates that crambe still grows in drier conditions.
"Unfortunately, on the South Shore here, we haven't had much luck with rain, so our potatoes are critical and I would say most of our fields, unfortunately, are past the point of no return," MacDonald said.
"In the past two years, we've had good luck with the crambe. It seems to succeed in conditions when they are a little drier and it helps to diversify our risk because we do grow potatoes."
MacDonald said he also likes that his crop goes to a plant on P.E.I.
"I really appreciate the fact that they're processing it here on the Island," MacDonald said.
"It insulates us from any trade wars with anybody else."
MacDonald said he will continue to grow more crambe, particularly on land where other crops aren't succeeding.
"By having some other crops in the rotation, it does take some of the pressure that we put on the potato crop to pay for the farm and pay for the land," MacDonald said.
"We're going to have to find ways to have diversity in our crops in order to protect ourselves because we can't live on crop insurance every year."
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