Shane Stokke, a director on the board of the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, is very optimistic about the future of flax.
Speaking to farmers here at Flax Day 2013, the Watrous, Sask. grower put it this way: "Flax is the highest net profit crop that I can grow."
Canada’s flax was shut out of European markets in 2009 on the discovery of traces of Triffid, a genetically modified flax variety developed in the mid-1990s but never commercialized.
As the European Union, a major market for Canada’s flax crop, closed its ports to GM foods in the 1990s, Triffid supplies were ordered in 1999 to be crushed and taken out of the system; the variety was deregistered in 2001.
After the Triffid discovery in 2009, however, trace amounts of the contaminant were revealed to be present throughout the Canadian system, eliminating the possibility of exporting to the EU.
Industry representatives now believe it’s time to refresh the flax supply.
Through painstaking DNA testing, plant breeders at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre have reconstituted four varieties of Triffid-free seed. These new varieties will be available to farmers in 2014.
"In 2014," said Dave Sefton, a Broadview, Sask. farmer and director with both SaskFlax and the Flax Council of Canada, "we are going to ask every producer to buy certified seed."
The new GM-free flaxes will be offered through SeCan.
Todd Hyra, SeCan’s Winnipeg-based business manager for Western Canada, told farmers, "The time is right to flush the system once and for all."
SeCan has taken care to multiply the new varieties on farms where flax has never been grown. The introduction of the new seed, Hyra said, is "likely our best and only chance to get this right."
Despite the Triffid incident, thanks to increased sales in China and the U.S., "average monthly exports haven’t changed that dramatically," market analyst Larry Weber told growers at Flax Day.
For 2013, Weber told farmers, flax offers a "better return on investment than canola."
In terms of flax prices, Weber said, "it’s going to be a weather market for the next six to 12 months.
"Any weather scare in North America and flax is at $15 (per bushel) before seeding. If we have an all-out drought like we did last year in the U.S., $20 is possible."
– Leeann Minogue is the editor of Grainews at Griffin, Sask.
Flax sector slowly recovers from Day of the Triffids, Oct. 11, 2012
Deregistered Canadian GM flax pops up in Europe, Sept. 10, 2009