Low input costs make flax a profitable choice

Venkata Vakulabharanam has a message for growers who think flax doesn’t compare favourably to other crops.

“I would say, ‘think again,’ ” Sask-atchewan Agriculture’s oilseed specialist told delegates attending the flax portion of Crop Production Week.

Using numbers provided by agricultural consultant Kevin Hursh, Vakulabharanam showed growers that flax was one of the most profitable crops to grow in Saskatchewan in 2012, outperforming canola by $39 per acre.

Fellow panelist Shane Stokke, a producer from Watrous, Sask, agreed.

Flax delivered a net profit on his farm before fixed costs of $280.04 per acre compared to $237.48 for canola.

His flax crop averaged 28 bushels per acre while canola averaged 32 bu. per acre. The calculation was based on a price of $14.50 per bu. for flax and $13.50 for canola.

“Flax is the highest net profit crop that I can grow, and it really does suit our farm very well,” said Stokke.

It’s not just a one-year anomaly, he added.

“Eight out of 10 years our flax will outdo our canola.”

Stokke said it boils down to the lower input costs required to grow flax.

Flax markets have been reeling since the discovery of Triffid in the supply chain, but the North American feed side of the business is poised for takeoff, said Rob Dreger, manager of international market development with O&T Farms.

He told delegates that 22 percent of all eggs in the Canadian market are now branded as omega 3, which sell for $4.25 a dozen compared to $2.35 a dozen for conventional eggs.

“I’m not going to tell you what the incremental cost is to grow a dozen eggs with omega 3 in them, but let’s just say that somebody is really making a tidy profit,” said Dreger.

Omega 3 enriched food is expected to generate $7 billion in sales by 2015. The specialty eggs didn’t exist in 2002.

“We’re still at the bottom of the curve and it’s coming. Those are huge numbers,” he said.

Dreger said Loblaws has an entire division dedicated to omega 3 food.

“This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. This is coming.”

Vakulabharanam said the crop has more to offer than healthy profits and a growing market.

Research shows canola typically performs better on flax stubble than it does on pulse stubble and in some soil zones growers achieve better yields growing canola on flax stubble than on summerfallow.

Stokke said he sees that on his farm.

“Canola does better on flax ground than on any other ground because there’s less trash,” he said.

A grower in the audience asked if there was a problem growing canola on flax fields sprayed with Authority herbicide because the label says there has to be a 24-month waiting period before planting canola.

Vakulabharanam said new re-search shows the waiting period is only 12 months and the label is in the process of being changed.

Stokke confirmed there is no problem growing canola the following year on a flax field treated with Authority.

Authority controls difficult weeds such as kochia, while Headline fungicide controls pasmo disease.

Vakulabharanam said flax also survives hailstorms better than other crops and is ideal for breaking the disease cycle because flax is not susceptible to the same yield-limiting diseases as canola and pulses.

Stokke said producers usually factor in an average yield of 20 to 21 bu. per acre for flax, which is not the case on his farm.

“If I see anything less than 25 I’m dissatisfied, something happened. Twenty-eight is what I usually budget,” he said.

Stokke provided tips for achieving better flax yields on the farm:

  • Seed early: Many growers leave flax until the end, but Stokke said he has had success seeding flax after his canola, around May 15.
  • Seed shallow: Stokke says planting 13 millimetres deep works best on his farm.
  • Watch out for fertilizer burn: This is one of Stokke’s biggest concerns, so he limits the amount of phosphorus he applies to the crop.
  • Plant on clean fields: Flax doesn’t compete well with weeds, although Authority has helped.
  • Headline fungicide is a must: Stokke says the difference between crop treated with the fungicide and crop left untreated is stark.

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