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New Process Helps Flax Compete With Cotton
A new process for flax fiber is opening the door to expanded flax acres for the cool season crop. CRAiLAR Technologies is a Canadian company with an all-natural, enzymatic process for flax. It turns the traditionally tough, stiff and strong fiber used to produce linen into a soft, durable, cotton-like fiber.
  “CRAiLAR fiber is suitable for woven and non-woven uses,” says Jay Nalbach, CRAiLAR. “We use fiber dyeing equipment to pull the pectins out of the fiber. It’s those pectins that give linen its stiffness.”
  Nalbach is confident the time is right for an alternative to cotton. Projected demand for cotton worldwide is expected to far exceed production in the next 20 years. Research into cotton production suggests that less than 2 1/2 lbs. of cotton can require hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water or more if irrigated. The same amount of CRAiLAR flax fiber requires less than 5 gal. of water and a fraction of the crop protection chemicals. Flax also outproduces cotton.
  “Our partnering producers have shown they can produce as much as 6,000 lbs. of flax straw per acre when broadcast seeded,” says Nalbach. “Of the harvested straw, 30 to 45 percent or 1,800 to 2,700 lbs. of that can be turned into finished fiber. By comparison, cotton can only yield as much as 787 lbs. of fiber per acre under ideal conditions.”
  Unlike cotton, flax is a short season, cool weather crop. CRAiLar initially has contracted with farmers in Oregon, Canada, and northwestern Minnesota for full-season flax production. The company has also contracted with farmers in South Carolina who are experimenting with growing flax as a winter crop.
  “The opportunity for flax is quite large,” says Nalbach. “It can be grown easily without a lot of pesticides or overall care. It can be rotated with a lot of food crops, grown without many inputs, and the seed is edible.”
  The Minnesota-based Agriculture Utilization Research Institution (AURI) is working with flax producers in that state to find even more uses for the crop. The fibers lay around a soft inner core called the shive. Once the fibers are removed, the shive is often landfilled or spread back on the field.
  “Flax used to be major crop in Minnesota,” says Amanda Wanke, AURI. “CRAiLAR has the technology to use the fiber. We are working on co-products that could be made from the waste.”
  At this point CRAiLAR is not contracting for more production acres. Efforts are being put into developing the market for the fiber by working with leading clothing manufacturers like HanesBrands, Carhartt and others. CRAiLAR is also expanding to Europe, where large acreages of flax are already grown.
  “Farmers interested in growing flax should visit our website,” says Nalbach.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, CRAiLAR Technologies, 4420 Chatterton Way, Suite 305, Victoria, B.C., Canada V8X 5J2 (ph 250 658-8582; www.crailar.com) or U.S. Office: CRAiLAR Technologies, 696 McVey Ave., Suite 202, Lake Oswego, Ore. 97034 (ph 503 387-3941; www.crailar.com).

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2014 - Volume #38, Issue #1