What is Industrial Flax?

Flax, a blue-flowering plant, grows best in cool climates with long periods of daylight. It is generally grown for one of two reasons: for the seeds or for the fiber. Most commercial operations in North America produce flax for its seeds.

Primary Uses

Virginia Status

What Farmers Need to Know:

Management practices for oilseed flax are similar to that of spring oats. It is adapted to soils that are good for wheat or oats, but is not suited to poorly drained soils. Flax should not be grown in the same field every year, but instead should be rotated with other crops to reduce disease potential and improve yields.

Flax is not like a soybean plant that completely turns brown and drops its leaves before harvest. Instead, at the time when it is ready to be harvested, there will usually be a few flowers in bloom and a few green leaves on the plant. A rule of thumb is to harvest when 90% of the seed capsules are brown. In northern states, flax is normally direct combined, but sometimes is swathed and allowed to dry in the field before picking it up with a combine.

Near & Longterm Outlook:

Competition for flax production acres will continue to be stiff as high corn prices drive growers' to plant more corn acres. Expansion of the flax market is most likely to occur from increased demand for human consumption and environmentally friendly industrial uses.

Industries that will Benefit the Most.

- Food & Beverage: high-nutrition crop because it is rich in dietary fiber, very high in essential fatty acids and high in vitamins and minerals
- Premium pet food industry
- Feeding flaxseed to poultry and cattle can alter the level of omega-3 fatty acid in eggs and beef
- Biocomposites in transportation or consumer goods.
-Flaxseed oil for linoleum flooring, paints and other industrial products
- Linen sheets, napkins, table cloths and clothingflax straw as an alternative fuelenvironmentally friendly replacement for glass in cars

National Status

Primary Regions?

Flax production in the United States occurs primarily in North Dakota, followed by South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota. In 2012, total U.S. flax production was nearly 5.8 million bushels valued at nearly $78.3 million. The average price for flax was $13.60 per bushel in 2012.  (NASS)

About 95 percent of the flax was grown in North Dakota, which planted 315,000 acres in 2012. Flax production in the state totaled nearly 5.5 million bushels.  (NASS)

Crop History?

Flax was first introduced to the United States by colonists, primarily to produce fiber for clothing. As the United States grew and more buildings were constructed, the need increased for flaxseed oil, commonly called linseed oil, to use in paints. The demand for flaxseed, or linseed, meal for livestock and poultry feed also increased. As a result, the flax processing industry was developed in the late 18th century. By the 1940s, however, cotton had replaced flax as a commonly used fiber in the United States, and flax became nearly extinct as a commercially grown crop.

Current Economics?

The United States is a net importer of flaxseed. In 2012, the United States imported flaxseed valued at more than $72.5 million, a 10 percent decline from 2011, almost entirely from Canada.  (FAS)

Imports of linseed oil dropped 22 percent in 2012 to $7.6 million. Canada provided linseed oil valued at nearly $6.1 million and China provided linseed oil valued at more than $1.0 million.  (FAS)

Worldwide Status

Primary Regions?

Canada is the largest producer of flaxseed in the world, representing about 40 percent of world production. It is grown on the Canadian prairies for linseed oil, which is used as a drying oil in paints and varnish and in products such as linoleum and printing inks. When combined, China, the United States and India account for another 40 percent of world production.

Crop History?

Flax (Linum usitatissimum) is one of the oldest cultivated crops, having been grown since the beginning of civilization. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent. Flax was grown primarily for use in linens. Burial chambers dating back to about 3000 B.C. depict flax cultivation and contained clothing made from flax fibers.

Current Economics?

Export: The United States exported flaxseed valued at more than $16 million in 2012, up 6 percent from the previous year. The largest market was Belgium, followed by Canada. The two countries together purchased 80 percent of U.S. flaxseed exports.  (FAS)

The country is a net exporter of linseed oil. The 2012 value of exported linseed oil totaled $46.2 million, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. China purchased linseed oil valued at $20.9 million, followed by Chile, which purchased linseed oil valued at $8.2 million.

Import: The United States is a net importer of flaxseed. In 2012, the United States imported flaxseed valued at more than $72.5 million, a 10 percent decline from 2011, almost entirely from Canada.  (FAS)

Imports of linseed oil dropped 22 percent in 2012 to $7.6 million. Canada provided linseed oil valued at nearly $6.1 million and China provided linseed oil valued at more than $1.0 million.  (FAS)

Important Fiber Terms
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