Flax may regain its stature in market

It paid for farms in the 1940s

By Carol Stender

FARGO, N.D. -- A; devastating crop year for Canadian flax has created a good market for U.S. producers.

Producers are getting $10 per bushel for flax in the United States due to poor growing conditions in Canada last year, said Duane Berglund, plant scientist at North Dakota State University in Fargo. Canada usually raises around 3 million acres.


The loan price for flax was around $5 last year, he said.

Flax has become a versatile crop in the food market for both yellow and brown varieties, Berglund said. Human consumption of flax seed has grown rapidly because of its high dietary fiber, omega 3 oils and anticarcinogenic lignans.

Flax seed oil is used a a vegetable oil.

Beef producers use flax in cattle rations particularly for young stock before moving the animals to feedlots. Producers are impressed with the plant's ability to build up an animal's immunity. They're reporting fewer cases of fever once the animals are moved.

"Our concern is that once we get that market opened up with Canada again, that Canadian flax will come across the border and it will be like a parade going south," Berglund said.

One Extension educator said flax is among the "prominent crops of the past" that's making a resurgence.

In 1947, farmers received about $12 per bushel, an enviable price during those times, Berglund said.

Flax is a versatile plant that can fit into many small grain rotations, he said. Soils that are poorly drained, subject to drought and erosion or high in soluble salts should be avoided.


Producers should avoid planting flax after potato, canola and sugar beets.

Frost seldom kills the seedlings. Even when the plants begin emerging, the seedlings can withstand temperatures in the low 20 degree range, Berglund said. The earlier the crop is planted, the higher the yields. It's usually planted in April or, if wet conditions persist, in May.

Flax is used both for its seed for oil and the stem for fiber. Midwest producers grow seed flax which, when crushed, produces linseed oil and linseed meal.

The plant's straw was once used for paper production particularly for cigarette paper, according to NDSU flax information. The straw was also burned. Combines equipped with straw choppers and spreaders can redistribute the straw evenly and leave the residue.

Fiber flax is used to make fine linen cloth, fine paper products and used as tow or padding in upholstered furniture.

The crop, however, should not be planted closer than three years in any rotation to protect it from disease and pests, Berglund said.

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