Flax growers funded for cold-tolerant seed development

Saskatchewan’s flax development group has picked up funding for breeding work on flax varieties that can better tolerate seeding into cold soils.

The Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP) will put up $500,000 for the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, which is spearheading a joint project involving several research organizations and industry councils from Alberta and B.C.

“This investment will create flax varieties that will fare well in more northerly growing regions, which will allow Canada to better supply the world’s demand for flax,” federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a release Monday.

The project will focus on developing the tolerance of flax seeding into cold soils, but also on its reflowering resistance after autumn rain, and on rapid drying for ease of harvest.

“Just as canola went from a relatively unknown crop to an extremely popular product through the development of hardy varieties, so too can flax,” Neil Ketilson, chair of the Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan, which administers CAAP funds in the province, said in the government’s release.

Any new varieties coming from this project are to be developed and field-tested using “traditional flax breeding methodologies,” the government emphasized.

Canada’s export-minded flax industry last year began testing crops and seed stock to purge genetics from an unwanted, deregistered genetically-modified variety that have hindered shipments to its key markets in GMO-shy Europe.

Funding members of the flax development group involved in the new project include grain handler Viterra, the Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures program, the B.C. Grain Producers Association, the Agriculture Development Fund and the Western Grains Research Foundation.

Support will also come from the Flax Council of Canada, the Branding the Peace Country Association and the Saskatchewan Research Council, the government said.

About three-quarters of the 930,000 tonnes of flax grown in Canada in 2009-10 came from Saskatchewan, followed by about 193,000 tonnes from Manitoba. Alberta so far is a relatively small flax producer, harvesting about 28,400 tonnes in 2009-10.

CAAP, a five-year, $163 million national program, was launched in 2009 with the stated goal of helping the ag sector adapt to change, funding projects relating to traceability, environment, climate change, capacity development, pests, diseases and others.

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