While it may not sit centre stage compared with other Prairie crops, flax still remains an important rotational choice for many producers. From reducing disease and weed pressure to increased length and flexibility of rotations, the reasons farmers keep growing flax are many and varied. We’ve checked in with some Prairie flax producers on why and how they grow the crop based on their many years of experience.
Shane Stokke grows flax on clay loam soil on his farm in Watrous, Sask., as his father and grandfather did. He usually plants around May 20. “Flax is somewhat cold tolerant, but I don’t like to plant earlier as I’ve had flax freeze,” he says.
“In our area, if I seeded flax in early May, I’d be nervous. I used to seed it at the end of my seeding program, but I moved it up. I get a better yield and more drydown time in the fall.”
Flax fits well in Stokke’s rotation. “I can plant anything after it, and canola, in particular, seems to do well after,” he says. “Years ago, we were at 42 pounds per acre, but 48 provides a good plant stand and weed competition. I try to use my 10-inch drill. It’s a little better for weed competition than a 12-inch (drill).”
For fertility, he sidebands phosphorus and nitrogen. “I’ve cut back the phosphorus at seeding, as it doesn’t take much to damage the plants,” he says. “I’ve dabbled with sulphur and I’m not sure yet whether it’s helping or not. I may try some this year again. I add more nitrogen at seeding now, but it’s a fine line because flax likes its nitrogen, but too much can cause delays in growth.”
For weed control, he carries out a pre-emergent herbicide application and an in-crop treatment for grasses and broadleaf weeds when the seedlings are a few inches high. The pre-plant burnoff is “very important,” says Stokke, for both yield potential and to keep dockage down at sale time.
Stokke does a fungicide application every year, as the disease pasmo is a constant threat on his farm.
On John Hardman’s farm near Dauphin, Man., Hardman’s grandfather started growing flax in 1937 and Hardman himself around 1982. “I like to use it in the rotation as it doesn’t get sclerotinia,” he says. “I do a wheat, flax and canola rotation and also work in some beans.”
Hardman has fine silty soil with a high pH. He plants 45 to 50 pounds per acre of certified seed. “Flax likes to be on better-drained fields and should be seeded very shallow — three-quarters of an inch — with minimum tillage,” he says. “And you need to seed early. The earliest I’ve seeded is May 5, but it should definitely be seeded in May (in this region). Your risk of not getting it to maturity goes up if you seed it in June.” Hardman uses seven-inch spacing for better weed control.
In terms of fertility, he used to apply potash at seeding, but he has since learned this can affect germination. A year ago, he started broad- casting potash before seeding to achieve a better stand. He generally applies 75 to 80 pounds per acre of nitrogen and, in the row, 25 to 30 pounds per acre of phosphorus, which helps get crop growth ahead of the broadleaf weeds and grasses, especially the broadleafs.
Hardman notes there are limited weed control options with flax and the crop must be three to four inches at herbicide application. He hasn’t used fungicides on his flax, relying on crop rotation and lodge-resistant varieties to keep disease at bay.
Enchant, Alta., farmer Greg Stamp has been growing flax for more than 15 years on the farm’s sandy loam soil. As co-owner of Stamp Seeds, Stamp grows flax every year for seed, but growing flax also helps keep dandelions and thistles under control on the farm due to the herbicides that can be used. However, he says, wild oats can still be a challenge.
Due to the farm’s location in southern Alberta and, therefore, without the maturity risk other areas must deal with, Stamp has seeded flax into late May some years, planting it last.
Although he plants flax with seven- and 10-inch row spacing (with disc drills), Stamp prefers seven-inch row spacing for better filling in. He uses 50 to 65 pounds of seed per acre and aims for at least 60 plants per square foot, with 20 per cent mortality included.
For fertility, Stamp says mid-row banding is common on fields where “we don’t want to till.” The crop might also be top dressed with nitrogen at herbicide application timing to help reduce the risk of lodging.
To control pasmo and other fungal diseases, Stamp applies fungicide at flowering.
New flax varieties available in 2021
Greg Stamp of Stamp Seeds says there are two new flax varieties launching this year. The new brown flax variety AAC Marvelous has been grown by Stamp for the last three years. The variety is high yielding, with medium height and medium seed size. When compared with Bethune and other brown flax varieties, it shows better lodging resistance. AAC Marvelous is a medium to long season variety. “It’s showing a one to five per cent yield increase over other browns,” says Stamp.
This fall, another brown flax variety called CDC Rowland (see photo above) will be available. The variety has exhibited a five per cent yield advantage over CDC Glas flax. It is a long season variety that stands well, has a dark seed colour and large seed size compared with other brown flax varieties. “It has a plumper, darker and larger seed size and I’m excited about it. It has a longer season than AAC Marvelous, however.”
Stamp also reports the yellow flax variety CDC Dorado (see photo above), which has been around for a few years, produces yields on par with top brown flax varieties. The variety flowers early, has large seed size and good to medium lodging resistance. The variety’s season length is medium to short.