What is in this article?:
• Despite the steep learning curve, Tom Kemp says flax is a really interesting crop to grow.
• This year he planted 150 acres of flax, took special care to level the land and basically learned from his prior mistakes.
• The flax grown in South Carolina will be used as stock for a new production facility being built by NAT in Kingstree, S.C.
TOM KEMP (left) and Duncan Skelton look at a flax field in Pamplico, S.C.
Steps toward profit
Kemp explains that the whole process of making a profit growing flax involves much more than simply growing the crop. The seed has to be harvested, flax stalks have to be harvested and baled and the bales have to be transported to the NAT plant in Kingstree, S.C.
Growing 50 acres, he says, wasn’t a big logistic or timing problem, but growing it on a large scale will require a big investment in infrastructure.
NAT has made a significant investment in flax in South Carolina. For starters, Kemp notes the company invested $1.5 million in seed and provided them to growers at no cost for the 2012 growing season. They also bought eight stripper-headers and 16 drum mowers, made in England, for growers to use to harvest flax.
Carolina Eastern is making an $8 million investment at their Pamplico, S.C. facility and for a long-term lease of the vacant Delta Mills spinning facility, which will be used to process flax grown in the area. Both investments will contribute significantly to the rural economy by providing value-added jobs to the community.
“Next year, we hope to increase flax acreage in South Carolina to 35,000 acres and within a few years to 100,000 or so acres.”
NAT needs at least 35,000 acres of flax production in the Carolinas to use in their Kingstree plant, which will produce an 80:20 blend of cotton and flax to produce fabric for use in clothes manufactured by Levi Strauss, Haines and other U.S.-based clothing companies.
Duncan Skelton, business manager at Carolina Eastern-Pamplico, has the daunting task or organizing and timing delivery of harvest equipment to growers contracted to grow the crop.
Skelton, who works extensively with growers, says flax production is like most any production process —t he more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
“We have some growers who will do really well with flax this year. They are the ones who paid special detail to planting the crop of a level surface, who have made timely applications of fertilizer and pesticides and who will get the crop dessicated and harvested on time,” he adds.
For growers who put the time and effort into flax, the rewards can be comparable to most crops grown in South Carolina. Kemp says he expects to cut close to 2.5 tons of flax per acre from his fields. He will be paid $165 per ton for the fiber. He also can harvest the seed and get another $10 per bushel.
With NAT providing the seed and picking up the flax stalks from the field, the input costs are much lower than other crops, he adds.
In addition to helping the off-season cash flow for growers, flax can frequently be harvested in the Carolinas early enough for growers to plant cotton or peanuts behind it. Even if the flax seed are harvested, flax should be out of the field earlier than wheat.
If growers choose to grow flax strictly for the fiber (stalk), even corn will be an option as a rotation crop. Kemp notes that once flax is harvested, it leaves a nearly perfect no-till or minimum tillage planting surface.
Growers interested in learning more about flax production in the Carolina’s may want to attend a field day on May 16, at the PeeDee Agricultural and Research Center in Florence, S.C.