Linseed has emerged from several years in the doldrums as a viable break crop in the eastern counties, according to a Cambridge University study.

The report on farming in the region by Ben Lang at the university’s rural business unit suggests that the gross margin achievable on the crop rose to £464/ha (£188/acre) in 2004, after years when cuts to support made linseed unprofitable.

Mr Lang says the upturn is due largely to improving standards of agronomy, which have boosted yields to about 2t/ha (16cwt/acre), and a better understanding of the laws of supply and demand, which has led farmers to secure a market for the crop before sowing it.

“The case of the linseed crop may provide an insight into ways that farmers can adapt their management of arable crops to achieve improved crop margins following the decoupling of subsidies from production,” he said.

The linseed area in the UK peaked last year at 45,000ha (111,150 acres), but Chris Spedding of merchant Robin Appel said that was down by about a third this year.

On the other hand, the market for linseed in food and animal feed was growing fast because of its high Omega 3 content, boosting farmer returns as well.

Mr Spedding said the crop had an important place on arable farms as part of a balanced rotation.

“Farmers spend too much time looking at gross margin and not at the profit in their pocket.

While the gross margin on linseed is competitive, the net margin is even better if you cost in the variable costs and other crops in the rotation.”

sam.fortescue@rbi.co.uk