Will flax growers sing the blues?

WEYBURN, Sask. – There’s something special about a flax crop in bloom. The blue-purple flowers are easy on the eyes and calming. Almost therapeutic.

Driving east of Weyburn, on the last day of July, the blue-purple flowers were seemingly everywhere. Not as common as yellow canola flowers, but close.

“My acres (of flax) increased like 100 percent from last year,” said Howie Mercer, senior marketing advisor with FarmLink in Weyburn.

The “my acres” are actually the acres of Mercer’s clients, who farm in southeastern Saskatchewan.

“They (growers) wanted to lower some of their canola acres and they added some flax,” Mercer explained, while standing in a flax field northeast of Weyburn during the GrainWorld crop tour of Western Canada.

“We’re still averaging 35 to 40 percent of our acres (in canola). But I had guys upwards of 50 (percent) and they backed it off.”

Growers in southeastern Saskatchewan may have opted for flax this year, but that didn’t happen in other parts of the province, said Wayne Thompson, executive director of SaskFlax.

Statistics Canada predicted that flax acres in Saskatchewan would be flat – going from 721,000 in 2018 to 727,500 this year.

Thompson thinks the Stats Can figure is correct.

“The last board meeting we went through that (acreage)… and we didn’t get too excited that the acres went up,” he said. “I want to be optimistic and say acres did go up, but you drive around and people are saying ‘I was going to (plant flax) and I didn’t.’ ”

Across the Prairies, flax acres may have increased marginally from 2018.

Stats Canada has forecasted acreage gains in Manitoba and Alberta. Overall, it pegged Canadian flaxseed acres at 937,000, compared to 857,000 in 2018.

The acreage increase isn’t large enough to disrupt flax prices, but Canadian flax growers may have to compete with increased flax production in North Dakota and Montana.

In June the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected flax acres at 355,000 – up from 208,000 acres in 2018. If American and Canadian growers produce average flax yields, supply will be more abundant than last year.

“They’re going to have quite a bit more production… so we won’t have (the same) demand for Canadian flax,” Thompson said.

“The Black Sea region did plant more flax…. So there will be more (around).”

The market has adjusted for the additional production. New crop prices are around $12 to $12.50 per bushel, lower than spot prices right now.

Supply will be larger but there is strong flaxseed demand from China, the U.S. and the European Union.

China continues to buy flaxseed and there’s no sign of a market disruption, Thompson said.

“They (China) are currently over 50 percent of our exports,” he said. “The flax trade seems to be doing well into China.”

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