21 February 1997

Consortium to lift flax prices

FLAX prices are set to double as a new marketing group aims for higher quality markets to offset the slide in area aid payments.

J and W Attlee of Dorking has joined forces with Industrial Crop Partnership of Cornwall and Straw Services of Wakefield to form a marketing consortium which will handle more than half the UKs 20,000ha (50,000 acre) flax crop, says Attlees arable manager Mark Jones.

Extracted fibre for premium markets, such as spun textiles, can be worth 70-80p/kg compared with just 35p/kg for industrial outlets, he says.

"Over the last three years we have paid growers £12-20/t for straw on the farm. More mature markets are now developing. This year we hope to double that price for growers."

That will reduce grower reliance on subsidy payments, he believes. "We need to offer significantly more money for fibre to make up for the decline in aid, which looks likely to slip a further 7% this year." Although that would pull aid down to £556/ha (£225/acre), average gross output of £741/ha (£300/acre) are still achievable, Mr Jones maintains.

The key to high prices is to grow the long-strawed varieties which textile markets demand. The new group will provide a complete service from sourcing seed to buying the harvested crop. Processing will take place at Wakefield and a new plant in Camelford due for completion in early 1998. Growers will be paid 60 days after crop is processed.

The group is seeking up to 2000ha (5000 acres) in Yorkshire and surrounding areas to supply its Wakefield plant.

&#8226 Research into better quality, longer flax, possibly using genetic engineering, fibres at York University has received a boost thanks to an EU grant of £70,000 and one of £7,000 from the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.n


Flax gross margins (£/ha)

Output:

Straw (1.85t @ £40/t)74

Seed (1t/ha) @ £170/t170

Area aid556

800

Variable costs:

Seed111

Fertiliser17

Sprays74

203

Gross margin597