Wednesday, November 15, 2006

An Integrated Approach to the Introduction of Flax in Iowa.

M. A. Smith, S. L. Carlson, and Mary H. Wiedenhoeft. Iowa State Univ, Ames, IA 50011

Consumption of flaxseed and flaxseed oil is increasing for human consumption and in livestock feeds, largely due to its high alpha-linolenic acid content. This increase in demand and development of an organic oilseed processing plant in Iowa has interested local growers in flax production. Flax was grown in Iowa until WW II, but by 2004, the collective knowledge about production was nearly gone. Farmers needed modern agronomic information about growing, harvesting, and handling flax. Of most interest to organic growers were weed management strategies for this relatively non-competitive crop. We also focused on the supply chain for flax oilseed and fiber products as an example of how to bring specialty crops to the market with profits for all involved. Our overall approach included plot research, on-farm research, informational meetings and field days, farmer surveys, formation of a working group, and both print and web-based information delivery. In 2005 and 2006, we conducted agronomic research on four University research farms in Iowa and Minnesota and on eight commercial farms to evaluate the influence of planting date, cultivar, weed management strategies, and seeding rate on flax grain yield, oil quantity and quality, and fiber quantity and quality. Informational meetings series for growers were conducted both winters of 2005 and 2006. A Flax Working Group was formed of growers, researchers, processors and buyers, who provided input on research, production methods, production costs, cleaning costs, grain delivery schedules and contract specifics. With this information and field research results, resources produced included a flax production guide, production costs and profitability worksheet, supplement to an existing contract, and a website. The Working Group also serves as a clearinghouse for new market opportunities for flax products. Feedback from participants has been extremely positive. This model seems highly transferable to other specialty grain crops for our region.