Project nudges flax acreage north

The Northern Flax Adaptive Program hopes to expand the growing region of flax on the Prairies into the northern areas, growers were told at the Melfort Research Farm field day in July.

And that’s a good plan for several reasons, said Linda Braun, executive director of the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, a partner in the project.

“Over the years, our markets have said they’re concerned because the growing area is concentrated basically in southeast Saskatchewan. We want to see a wider expansion where flax can be grown. That would increase the security of supply and make our markets much happier.”

The five year, $3 million project will also offer the opportunity to improve other flax traits such as oil content and dry down time – important considerations as the demand for flax for human consumption and the fibre industry increases.

Currently, 80 percent of the flax harvested in Saskatchewan is grown in the southeast. Only 12 percent is grown in the northern tier, where there is a distinct yield advantage of about 18 percent.

Viterra plant breeder Paul Dribnenki said the program is studying cold tolerance, stems remaining green after bolls are ripe, re-flowering in the fall and range of maturity.

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At the Vegreville planting site, seeding was finished by May 13 this year.

“Last year, we had 14 frost events after seeding and that’s what we want because in our breeding nursery we have over 27,000 strains of flax so you have a lot of opportunity to create selection pressures and make some advances in whatever you want to do,” said Dribnenki.

Early seeding changes the genetics of a program, he said.

“The entries we started with in nursery rows three years ago are in a co-op this year and you can see the significant increases in vigour. Most of our entries have higher vigour levels than CDC Bethune right now in the first year.”

Flax is one of the last crops to mature so early seeding is important, he said.

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None of the northern flax plots will be desiccated.

“We’re going to see the true expression of natural dry down in our flax varieties and that’s part of the northern test,” he said.

Research will help develop flax that resists fall flowering.

After looking at about 300 lines, six have been identified for early maturity, with the earliest up to 17 days earlier than CDC Bethune.

Fine tuning these traits will make growing flax a more satisfying experience for farmers, Dribnenki said.

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