Neal Baxley recently cut his second crop of flax and says the steep learning curve from last year paid off in a better crop the second time around.

The key to growing flax is getting a good stand. You get paid for fiber, so obviously the more plants you have in a field, the more valuable the crop, the South Carolina grower says.

Baxley, who farms near Mullins, S.C., with his brother Gene Robert and his father Steve, planted about 320 acres of flax this past year. “Flax likes poorly drained soil we don’t like for other crops, and we have some of that type land on our farm,” Baxley says.

They got interested in flax after attending a meeting held by NAT (Naturally Advanced Technologies, which is now officially named Crailar — same as the process the company uses to produce fabric.

“A few years prior to that we had purchased a large square baler, and the deal we had set up when we bought the baler fell through, so we needed a way to use the piece of equipment, Baxley explains.

Crailar, which uses flax in an 80:20 cotton blend to make fabric for several large, well known U.S.-based clothing manufacturers, recently opened a production plant in Pamplico, S.C.

At the Pamplico plant, the companyproduces and markets CRAiLAR, a natural fiber made from flax and other base fibers, most commonly cotton.

The proprietary CRAiLAR process is the first to remove the binding agents from flax that contribute to its stiff texture by bathing it in a proprietary enzyme wash. The result is a textile fiber that merges the strength and durability of flax with the most desirable attributes of cotton.

The Baxley family farming operation includes corn, cotton, soybeans tobacco and peanuts, plus winter wheat and now canola and flax, plus a livestock operation. “We grow a little bit of everything, so to fit into our production timing, flax had to have some advantages,” Baxley says.

One advantage, he says, is that they can typically get flax out earlier than wheat. Much of the flax crop is grown under irrigation, so they have some flexibility as to what crop to plant behind it. This year, Baxley says, they plan to plant corn behind their irrigated flax.