13 December 1996

Flax in

Hants takes off

By Andrew Blake

FLAX processing on a commercial scale is under way in Hampshire.

British Fibres new plant near Winchester means substantial amounts of flax straw grown on UK farms can be transformed into a useful raw material for industry at long last.

The processing line, designed to handle up to 10,000t of straw a year, is the outcome of the three-year £1.1m LINK-funded Fibrelin project which ended last March.

According to merchant Robin Appel, one of five industrial partners in the part-Government backed scheme, the plants opening is a significant first. "British Fibre completes the corporate triangle for us as an organisation to develop the market for flax."

On one side is the Natural Fibres Organisation whose main aim is to investigate potential markets, he explains. "We like to be market driven in everything we do."

Waltham Chase-based Robin Appel offers growing contracts, provides husbandry advice and buys back the straw. BF then processes it and sells the fibre.

The new plant is based on the Silsoe-designed decorticator whose patented pin drum strips the woody parts or shiv from the more valuable fibre.

Mr Appel admits the full-scale machine has been a long time coming. The main difficulty was that extracting industrial grade fibre requires new technology. The bale unraveller, for example, involves a tumbling mechanism which had to be designed from scratch. "It was no turnkey project."

Plans are in hand to install a second machine alongside the first to achieve economies of scale, says British Fibres Nigel Bazeley. "And we hope to have one on a site in the south-west." Overseas interest in the technology is expected to lead to exports.

All fibre from the BF plant will use the Fibrelin trademark.

At last – UKfibre flax is being processed in Hants. It could find a ready market in car body panels, says NFOs Harry Gilbertson.


1997 Flax gross margin projections £/ha

LowMedium High

Output:

seed118197276

fibre3065100

subsidy574574574

Variable costs:

seed112112112

ferts03749

sprays253749

Gross margin585650740

Yields: seed 0.5-2t/ha, straw 2-4t/ha.

Source: Robin Appel.