On average, flax yields 2 to 3 tons of fiber per acre. At this year’s price of $250 per ton, flax production is competitive with wheat. With flax, there is potential for earlier harvest than wheat, giving growers more flexibility to plan for subsequent full-season crops.

Can flax play a role in nutrient management?

An issue yet to be resolved for flax is its role in nutrient-management plans. In Columbus County, where animal agriculture overshadows crop production, growers often choose crops based on their usefulness as receiver crops for animal waste.

Because flax hasn’t been grown here historically, nitrogen fertilization rates and a realistic yield expectation have not been established for this crop. Although provisional exceptions can be made, this information will be required before flax can be a routine choice in a nutrient-management plan.

Phyllis Greene, forage specialist with Columbus County Cooperative Extension, planted 35 acres of flax at her family’s farm this year. She obtained approval from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to modify her nutrient-management plan for the application of swine effluent to flax grown as a cover crop.

DENR approved a provisional rate of 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre, which is low given that CRAiLAR recommends 80 pounds and historical literature supports application of 50 to 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

Morris, the NCDA&CS agronomist, has helped growers develop nutrient-management plans for many years. He approached Greene about the possibility of setting up some fertilization test plots in her fields.

Based on the provisionally approved rate and the rates commonly used, Morris and Greene decided to set up test plots to compare commercial fertilizer rates of 30, 60 and 90 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

The first year’s results have been tabulated, and they indicate a good correlation between nitrogen fertilization and yield. Extrapolating from the test plots, Morris and Greene estimate that rates of 30, 60 and 90 pounds per acre produced yields of 2.17, 2.61 and 3.48 tons per acre, respectively.

If similar results occur in subsequent field trials, they should have no trouble getting higher nitrogen rates approved for flax fertilized with animal waste, Morris said.

Area growers and livestock producers who are interested in flax production can contact Morris for detailed information. He and other regional agronomists can provide advice on how to optimize yield through precise management of nutrient applications.

For contact information, visit www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/rahome.htm.