30 June 2000

Flax could be on its way

back with different role

FLAX, once a Yorkshire favourite, could be making a comeback. As little as 30 years ago, flax was grown widely in the county for the textile industry.

Today, renewed interest is focusing on the crop as a component for door panels and trims in the car industry. And as an environmentally-friendly and recyclable replacement for fibreglass.

Flax fibres, used in conjunction with other products, such as polypropylene, can replace glass fibre and wood stock providing the same physical strength with better energy absorption in areas such as Side Impact Protection Systems absorbent panels. Flax fibres are also up to 40% lighter than conventional components.

Vauxhall use 1.8kg in trims on their Astra vehicles and estimate a total demand of 600t/year for the Vectra and Frontera models.

Flax can be grown on both eligible and ineligible land. Returns of about £500/ha (£270/acre) are estimated by Andrew Flux of seed suppliers Gorham and Bateson.

That is based on costs of £160/ha (£65/acre) comprising seed at £123/ha (£50/acre) and agrochemicals at £37/ha (£15/acre). The flax crop needs only negligible fertiliser.

Returns are calculated on the basis of an area payment of £543/ha (£220/acre), a fibre bonus of £24/ha (£10 acre) and a grain yield worth £98/ha (£40/ acre).

Mr Flux is optimistic about the crops potential. "Once farmers have the courage to grow what is seen as a novel crop, particularly as new management techniques are developed, it should earn its place on farms across the country."