22 March 2002

Linseed set for comeback?

SPRING linseed, fast becoming a forgotten crop, is well worth a fresh look as strong demand drives prices to £170/t, says seed agent John Turner.

At that level the gross margin from a 2.5t/ha (1t/acre) crop of linseed compares favourably with that from 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre) of wheat, he calculates. Both now receive the same area aid.

"The current price increase for linseed more than offsets its reduced area aid, and you have to work hard to get less than 1t/acre on suitable land."

Main reasons for low linseed yields are excessive seed rates and nitrogen, incorrect herbicides and insufficient attention to establishment. But given care good output can be achieved, says Mr Turner.

"Merchant Robin Appel has certified 29cwt/acre of Flanders for seed on 80 acres. Its also a good cereal break."

Several other varieties on the Descriptive List, such as the new low-branching type Talon, offer quite a bit more potential, he adds.

Growers outdated perceptions of the relative merits of wheat and linseed are largely based on prices of £80 and £95/t respectively in 1999 when linseed returns collapsed, largely through over-production, he believes.

"The crop has adjusted but farmers have not."

Fears of a shortage of supplies for traditional markets and the crops developing health food outlets mean several firms are offering contracts at £170/t, he notes.

Neil Spinks, of Suffolk-based GB Seeds, confirms that price is guaranteed for linseed crops meeting the basic standards of a maximum 9% moisture, 2% admixture and being free from moulds and of even colour.

That is the level at which Canadian imports become competitive, he says.

Despite the attractive price it is proving hard to change growers views about the potential returns, he says. "It is almost a case of them saying: Dont confuse us with the facts."

Even if crops fail to qualify for the full premium price, margins are likely to remain good, he adds. "You are still looking at a ball park figure of £160/t." &#42