Flax industry fighting to regain lost acres

CNS Canada — After losing ground to pulses this year, a flax industry group is working on ways to be competitive going forward.

“It’s the year of the pulses, and certainly growers are taking advantage of good prices for pulses,” said Don Kerr, president at the Flax Council of Canada, referring to the United Nations General Assembly’s declaration of 2016 as the International Year of Pulses.

“That’s definitely had an impact on the acres of flax this year.”

This year’s seeded flax area is estimated at 1.1 million acres, compared with 1.6 million acres the year prior, according to Statistics Canada data.

The flax industry is working to become more competitive against other options growers have, Kerr said.

The council wants to increase benefits to producers by increasing yields and export markets.

The flax council estimates mean producer yield at about 22 bushels an acre. The group wants to increase those levels to 27 bushels an acre by 2020, and 32 bushels an acre by 2025.

One of the issues curbing yields, Kerr said, is the absence of herbicide-tolerant varieties of flax.

The Flax Council is working with a U.S.-based company to develop a non-GMO, herbicide-tolerant variety of flax, which Kerr said has long-term benefits for improving yield per acre.

Short-term, the council is working on developing and distributing data which could help growers use best management practises, he added.

“There are growers in Western Canada that can produce 40 bushels an acre of flaxseed,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of trying to take that information and compile it so that we can give all flax growers in Western Canada the information they need to hopefully achieve better yields.”

The council is also looking at becoming more competitive, price-wise, by expanding and developing markets in China and India.

“The Chinese market is huge, and we’ve seen the imports into China increase dramatically.”

China currently buys 353,000 tonnes of flax from Canada, according to data from the Flax Council of Canada, but the council hopes those numbers will increase to 450,000 by 2020 and 550,000 by 2025.

“China, in general, is a market that is just going to continue to grow,” Kerr said.

Another potential market for flax is India, Kerr said. “Basically we’re talking about a market at least the size of China.”

India produces its own small crop of flax, but Kerr said there’s growing consumer demand within the country.

“We think that over the next 10 years India could emerge as a market that could really expand our exports for flaxseed.”

Jade Markus writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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