Production, Management & Diagnostic Guide
Growing Flax – PDF version
Download the PDF version of ‘Growing Flax – Production, Management & Diagnostic Guide’.
Flax is a self-pollinated crop widely adapted to temperate climates of the world. The scientific name for flax is Linum usitatissimum L. Usitatissimum literally means ‘most useful’. Flax indeed has many uses with seed used for industrial, food and feed purposes. In 2014, flax was approved by Health Canada for a health claim linking eating ground whole flaxseed to lowered blood cholesterol levels, a major risk factor for heart disease. Flax straw contains fibres that may be used from making textiles to automobile components.
It is believed that flax originated in the Middle East or Indian regions. Flax is an ancient crop dating back to 7,000 BC. Utilization of stem fibre and seed oil can be traced back to early civilizations in Egypt and the Middle East. Flax was one of the first crops brought to Canada, with production believed to have occurred in 1617, at the site of the old courthouse in Quebec City. Early breeding efforts date back to the establishment of the Experimental Farms Branch of the Canada Department of Agriculture in 1888. Cereal grains and flax were among the first crops produced in Western Canada.
The acreage of flax on the Prairies varies from 400,000 to 800,000 hectares (one to two million acres). Two main reasons why Canadian farmers choose to include flax in their crop choices:
- Its value in rotations; and
- A crop providing good returns on investment (low input crop).
Flax is an important crop to break up disease and insect populations common with our cereal and other oilseed crops. Flax often seems to pencil out as one of the best crops for net returns.
Canadian flax is sought-after in world markets for its high seed quality. Production in a northern country like Canada increases the alpha linolenic fatty acid (ALA) content and iodine value of the seed. ALA is an essential fatty acid for human nutrition. High iodine value is an important measure of drying capacity which is valued in the manufacture of linoleum, printing inks, paints and stains.
The stem fibre of flax is of considerable interest for the emerging bio-fibre industry. Flax fibre has good strength, is lightweight and is gaining momentum as key ingredient in the manufacturing industry.