Higher flax yields may rejuvenate crop: expert

Last year’s high yields may reverse the prevailing trend of declining flax acres in Manitoba, says Anastasia Kubinec, a provincial oilseed specialist.

“I was very surprised that we only had 85,000 acres in Manitoba last year,” she said. 

“I thought it would be more like 110,000 or 120,000. I’m hoping for at least that 120,000 (acres) this year.”

Kubinec said more growers may consider flax as reports of 50 bushels per acre or higher from last year flow through the agricultural community.

Saskatchewan flax acres have rebounded from lows recorded three to four years ago, increasing from 535,000 acres in 2011 to 859,000 last year. 

However, Manitoba acres fell from 165,000 in 2010 to 85,000 in 2013.

Paul Dribnenki, a consultant who provides agronomic, breeding and biotechnology research for the flax industry, said Manitoba is also lagging behind other provinces when it comes to flax yields.

He said Manitoba’s average flax yield has increased .38 bushels a year in the last 30 years from 21.1 bu. per acre to 24 bu. per acre.

Meanwhile, prairie-wide yields have risen .5 bu. per year.

“So Manitoba is definitely the bronze medal,” Dribnenki told the Crop Connect conference in Winnipeg Feb. 18.

He said the acreage decline and meager yield growth is unfortunate because flax yields could be substantially higher in Manitoba.

Flax varieties grown at the Parkland Crop Diversification Foundation in Roblin, Man., yielded 73 bu. per acre last year, while varieties grown at plots near Rosebank, Man., generated 76 bu. per acre.

“So we have a very high yield potential in our varieties,” Dribnenki said.

“However, the yield stability is low.”

Kubinec said flax is particularly frustrating for growers because it will yield 40 bu. one year and 20 the next.

Dedicated flax producers have discovered how to improve yield stability, he added, and they consistently grow flax that yields 35 bu. or higher.

Increasing from 20 to 25 bu. to 35 to 40 bu. requires effort and a dedication to agronomic detail, such as weed control, seeding dates, seeding rates and cropping sequence.

“That 15 to 20 bu. per acre discrepancy can be made up pretty quickly … if guys treat flax as a planned crop and not an afterthought,” Kubinec said.

Brian Hefty, a South Dakota grower who regularly achieves corn yields of 300 bu. per acre and soybeans higher than 70 bu. per acre, said commitment and focus are essential for high yields, regardless of the crop.

Dribnenki concurred, noting flax requires more energy and effort than other crops. 

“As a manager and producer, you have to make sure you are there for flax to provide the TLC it needs,” he said. “There are definitely easier crops to grow … (but) the folks that are out in the field noticing things … and changing their management, those are the folks that are going to build up their yields.”

Kubinec said Manitoba Agriculture and the Manitoba Flax Growers Association have made efforts to broadcast information about flax agronomy.

In the last six years, they have held meetings and created Top 10 tips to amplify flax yields.

Unfortunately, he added, Manitoba growers are enthralled by more popular commodities such as soybeans and corn.

Dribnenki said there is an opportunity to rehabilitate flax’s image in Manitoba as a finicky, low yielding crop.

“It actually does respond very well to best management practices,” he said. “We’ve got to get some of that yee-haw back in flax. We have to rediscover the crop.”

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