Bringing More Blue To An Alberta Summer – for Aug. 16, 2010

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alberta farmer |vegreville

A field of blue flax flowers in full bloom is one of the most beautiful sights of a Prairie summer, but it’s one not often seen in Alberta.

Only about three per cent of Canada’s flax is grown in this province, versus about 80 per cent in Saskatchewan and 17 per cent in Manitoba.

Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF; formerly the Alberta Research Council) is working on a project to bring more flax production to this province. At a test plot site near Vegreville, researchers are studying flax as part of the Northern Adapted Flax project.

The research is done in collaboration with Viterra to create flax cultivars suitable for the central and northern Prairies.

Flax grown in northern or cooler temperatures produces a higher-quality oil, said Dr. Jan Slaski, a senior scientist and crop and plant physiologist with AITF, which is conducting agronomy research on flax cultivars at test plots in Vegreville and Melfort, Saskatchewan.

The Vegreville site includes six trials on three varieties to address problems growing flax in northern climates, with their colder soil and shorter season. The trials are meant to show how plants, fertilizers and diseases are affected by cold soils, said Slaski.

In one experiment, flax was seeded at four different seeding dates.

In another, researchers used urea versus a slow-release nitrogen at different depths to observe their effects n colder soils. Different seeding depths were also considered as part of the trials. Some of the plots were directly seeded and others are minimal till.

Slaski said farmers used to question direct-seeding flax, but many who have visited the direct-seed test plots are surprised by how well they are doing.

Test plots were seeded between .5 to three inches deep using a disc seeder. Shallow seeding in the tilled plots resulted in poor stand establishment while direct seeding combined with delayed seeding resulted in delayed germination and poor stand establishment. Emergence was not affected by seeding depth. “Our goal for deeper seeding was also to simulate the experience of seeding in colder soils,” said Slaski.

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“Flax grown in northern or cooler temperatures produces a higher-quality oil.”

DR. JAN SLASKI

SENIOR SCIENTIST, CROP PHYSIOLOGIST, AITF

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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