Firm, steady prices expected for flax this year

Farmers planted less of the crop this year, but demand is growing from China, the U.S. and possibly the European Union

Farmers with flax in the ground should be pleased come autumn.

Statistics Canada revised its seeded acreage estimate downward in late June and that, combined with lower carry-out stocks and several other factors, should bring strong prices.

“Given the demand in the market from China, the United States and potentially even the European Union, I really think demand for flax is going to be strong,” said Wayne Thompson, executive director of the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission.

Statistics Canada reported 885,000 acres of seeded flax in its June report, which compares to 1.04 million acres last year and 941,000 acres in 2016.

The shortfall of about 100,000 acres compared to a year ago should hold flax prices reasonably high, especially when combined with good Chinese demand, European Union issues with flax from the Black Sea region exceeding maximum residue limits for pesticides, and acreage declines in North Dakota, the United States’ key flax-producing region, Thompson said.

“The demand from China, I can’t say it’s taking off yet, but the interest in China continues to grow,” he said.

Brennan Turner, president of Farm Lead, an online grain marketplace, said he too is bullish on flax.

He said the crop posted price gains of four percent in June, and he expects a continued steady performance.

“We’re not saying like it’s wildly bullish, like it’s going to be $20 or anything like that, but keying into that $13 range certainly is a possibility.”

Flax currently sells for about $12 per bushel.

“So pretty positive, but again, the market is playing pretty hand-to-mouth, if you will, and this is just a little more sentiment as to where prices could go and relative to ending stocks that we’re seeing right now,” Turner said.

Flax stocks as of March were reported to be 327,000 tonnes, which compares to 417,000 at the same time in 2016.

Thompson said his optimistic outlook already factors in competition from Kazakhstan and Russia. Those countries have steadily increased flax production over the last three years and are wooing Chinese buyers, which will limit gains for Canadian flax.

However, the push for healthier diets from a growing middle class in China will continue to pressure supplies, he said.

Thompson said the crop in the ground has started off well, although most plants could use a nice rain. He cautioned that the recent hot spell will have to ease soon.

“The crops are not doing so well these last few days to a week, with the 30-plus or close to 30-degree days,” he said earlier this month.

Turner added that he’s heard concerns about the reliability of the U.S. market because that’s where a lot of the Canadian crop usually goes. However, the supply-demand fundamentals remain positive, he added.

He said this year’s seeded acreage estimate marks a 29 percent decline from the five-year average.

Thompson said that number includes the highly successful peak year of 2014, when farmers seeded 1.605 million acres. The numbers have come down steadily since.

“We’d like to hit that high again.”

Many farmers saw strong prices the previous year, and flax seemed like a good economic decision. Two years later, lentils became the darling and flax acres fell to 941,387.

“More people grew lentils that year, purely based on the expected profit,” Thompson said.

Lately, he said acreage has remained relatively steady and most of the present change is due to Manitoba acres shifting into soybeans. Saskatchewan and Alberta have remained roughly steady.

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