CraiLar is a process that turns flax into a cotton-like fiber and a 20 percent blend with true cotton fiber increases the water resistance, or wicking, capability of cotton, helps the fabric hold its color and increases durability of the fabric.

The process was developed by Canada-based Naturally Advanced Technologies (NAT). The company has long-term contracts with Hanes for inclusion of CraiLar in T-shirts and socks, with Levi Strauss for inclusion in denim fabrics and with a number of other large cotton and wood-based companies.

Needless to say the demand for flax will be increasing dramatically and South Carolina is the epicenter for this growth in production.

Former Clemson University Extension Agent Russell Duncan, via his new company Carolina Eastern Precision Ag, has contracted with NAT to work with growers to build acreage for flax.

The goal of 15,000 acres to be planted this fall looks very achievable Duncan says.

Flax is not a new crop to the Pee Dee Region of South Carolina, according to Duncan. “In the late 1980s and on into the 1990s we grew 5,000 acres statewide for a paper company in Mt. Pisgah, N.C. The flax was used to make paper for bibles and in making cigarettes,” Duncan says.

“Over the years we’ve had a couple other ventures that included flax. For a number reasons, none having to do with our ability to grow the crop, these ventures failed,” he adds.

“When Naturally Advanced Technologies developed the CraiLar technology, they began looking for a site in the U.S. to grow flax.

“They recognized that we have grown it in South Carolina and have the acreage and the expertise to grow it, so they have made the business decision to build a plant in Kingstree, S.C., and to make this area the center for flax to be used in their CraiLar technology,” the long-time South Carolina agricultural leader explains.

The plant in Kingstree is targeted to open in May 2012 that will include a production line that separates the flax fiber from the stalk — much like a cotton gin. The other half of the plant will turn the flax fiber into a CraiLar fiber, much like the front-end of a textile plant converts cotton to textile grade fiber for spinning.

“This announcement is a culmination of a two-year process that took a significant amount of effort from South Carolina’s Department of Commerce, the USDA’s ARS, Williamsburg County, and HanesBrands,” says Jason Finnis, founder and chief operating officer of NAT.

“We are confident in the experience and relationships that Carolina Eastern brings to our team,” continued Finnis,

“And we anticipate their team’s knowledge of the region, from both the agronomic and economic standpoints, will allow us to quickly and smoothly ramp up production demand to bring CraiLar Flax to market,” he concluded                 

Companies with which NAT is currently engaged in purchasing or development agreements include HanesBrand, Levi Strauss & Company, Georgia Pacific, Cintas Corporation and Ashland Inc.

For growers interested in growing flax, Duncan says keep a couple of things in mind. Flax has to be managed like hay. The grower will need to have hay handling equipment. And, to harvest seed requires a stripper header and these might not be available on every farm, Duncan notes.

With the cutters, a typical disk cutter used for hay won’t work well with flax. The fiber is long and tends to wrap around a disk mower. The only disk mower we’ve found that will work with flax is made by a German company (Fella), which is rear-driven machine.

The preferred type cutter for flax is a drum mower. Right now larger drum mowers aren’t produced in the U.S.