USDA/ARS in Florence, SC Researching Flax

As we heard yesterday on Inside Agriculture in the second installment of our alternative crop series, Crailar has built a plant in Pamplico, South Carolina utilizing flax to spin into a fiber to compliment cotton in cotton blend clothing. Dr. Phil Bauer is with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Florence, and has been working on some variety trials for flax:

“We are evaluating different cultivars. These are European long line cultivar varieties of flax. We are looking at suitable times to cut the flax and the effect that irrigation has on both straw and seed yields. We have been doing this research for the last two years.”

Some alternative crops have been promoted to farmers as a clean-up tool for weed or nematode infested land, or marginal land. Bauer says flax may not be your best choice for those particular applications:

“It’s a winter crop. So it is planted and harvested around the same time as wheat, so if they wanted to rotate winter crops that would work well. Or if they are not growing anything and wanted to grow something in the winter it would work. Flax does like water, it will do fine on marginal land, but I would not expect very high yields.”

One of Bauer’s trials involves irrigation on flax grown for straw:

“When we had a dry year, like Spring 2011, we had about a 40% increase in flax straw yield when we irrigated. Last year we had a wet spring and had almost no increase with irrigation.”

While not Crailar’s immediate goal, flax can be grown for seed production as well as straw. Bauer explains they had a few trials with seed varieties, as well:

“As far as the cultivar differences, most of them all yielded about the same. We also had an oil seed line in the trials, it yielded less straw but more seed. That plant was bred to do that.”

Flax has been promoted to farmers as an alternative to winter wheat, but with the benefit of harvesting earlier so as to allow for another full season crop. Bauer says that can be done, but harvesting flax early comes with a cost:

“As far as harvest time, the longer you leave it in the field the more it grows and the more bio mass you get. But it doesn’t seem to matter irrigated or dry land if you cut it 10-20 days after it starts flowering we were getting about 2 tons of straw per acre.”

Two, to two and a half tons of straw per acre is considered an average yield, and most is baled with a square hay baler and left in the field til used by Crailar.

Dr. Phil Bauer, USDA/ARS researcher in Florence South Carolina

For more on Flax, check our our Alternative Crop Series. is dedicated to serving the agricultural industry in the Carolinas and Virginia with the latest ag news, exclusive regional weather station readings, and key crop market information. The website is a companion of the Southern Farm Network, provider of daily agricultural radio programming to the Carolinas since 1974. presents radio programs, interviews and news relevant to crop and livestock production and research throughout the mid-Atlantic agricultural community.