Flax; the Latest Alternative Crop in South Carolina

When it comes to alternative crops, half the battle is having a market. Farmers are usually willing to try anything once, but if they can’t sell it, you’ll never get them back.

Jason Finnis, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Crailar Technologies has created a market for flax production in South Carolina with the innovation of the Crailar process, and the new Crailar production plant near Pamplico. Finnis explains why they chose South Carolina:

“Essentially our product is a plant fiber from flax that we process in Pamplico into a soft, fluffy fiber that you would spin into clothing just like you would cotton. Our flax fiber, called Crailar Fiber, we blend it with cotton in a very cotton-rich fabric and spin it on a conventional system for anything from socks to denim to t-shirts.

Crailar has a presence in the Central Northern Plains as well as Canada. We started in 1998 as an apparel manufacturing company. We were serving clients like CostCo and Starbucks, and other companies with environmentally friendly t-shirts, they were alternative fiber t-shirts. It was through that business that we started to develop a way to make flax fiber, or other fibers like flax, soft and comfortable to wear, because notoriously they are not. They are itchy and scratchy and not always nice to wear. So we started working on a process that could transform these fibers into a soft spinable fiber. We were successful in that and patented a process that we call Crailar, and the next phase of our company, that started in 2005, was to start producing fiber for textile customers. We were importing fiber from Europe and processing fiber in pilot plants and starting to have good success with our customers but we realized that we needed to be able to grow this fiber in North America to make all of the economics work.

When you look at the climate that is required to grow a very high quality flax fiber crop, you need to have warm, humid weather at the time of harvest and that is something that the Carolina’s have plenty of, as well as Alabama and Georgia. So we started looking around South Carolina as location that would be ideal for growing flax. We were happy to find that in the not too distant past, about 8 years ago, flax fiber had been grown in South Carolina quite successfully and the fiber quality was very good. We started to grow some test acres along with the USDA in Florence as well as small 50 acre plots that we grew on our own just to determine that the fiber could be suitable.

We were very happy to find that the fiber is extremely high quality and rivals anything that can be done in Europe. Once the fiber is processed through our system, it can turn into any garment that uses cotton, you could use the flax fiber as well as a compliment.”

So, where is flax grown, and by whom, and for what reason? We’ll hear from researchers tomorrow about production practices for flax.

For more on flax, click here to see our Alternative Crop Series, where flax is our featured crop this week.

Click here to read about the new Pamplico Facility and see photos of the inside

Images Courtesy of Crailar

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