15 January 1999

Quality boost with new blueprint for flax men

A NEW blueprint for growing flax and a new method of harvesting which makes it possible to bale up to two months earlier has been developed by a Norfolk-based company.

The changes make the crop more weatherproof and improve fibre quality to boost marketing opportunities, it claims.

The July System has been developed by flax specialist Gorham & Bateson of Downham Market to improve crop reliability and reduce rain-induced delays in the autumn.

"Optimum fibre quality and seed yield now comes 100 days after sowing, which for an early drilled crop is in July," says the companys agronomist Tony Rose.

Crops need to be sown as early as mid March, or as soon as soil conditions allow. "Last year March drilled crops had a big advantage over later sowings," says Mr Rose.

The second stage involves glyphosate desiccation once most seed capsules have formed, normally in mid-July. After allowing eight to 10 days for the chemical to work, the crop should be cut with a mower or rape swather.

Glyphosate continues to work on the swathed straw, enhancing the retting process which releases fibre bundles from the stem by bacterial action as the straw rots.

"The next stage is pre-conditioning in the field. The aim is to beat the straw to soften woody parts to achieve better and more even retting.

Converted tedders can be used, but the Fibra Lino FE800 Flax Extractor has been specially designed for the job."

One pass with the new prototype machine removes woody parts of the stem to allow faster natural drying. That ensures the crop is ready for baling in August instead of October.

NEW FLAX MARKETS

Five years ago added-value flax markets did not exist. Now they take several thousand tonnes a year from European growers and will double in five years, forecasts Johann Vantomme, managing director of Belgian company Procotex, one of the worlds largest flax traders. Fibre mats for internal car trim and thermobonded fibre/resin door panels are two alternatives to traditional textile outlets. Such products already feature in Mercedes and BMW cars. Lighter, tougher panels produced by bonding flax and polypropylene are also being used by BMW, Volkswagen, Opel/Vauxhall, Audi and Ford.

FLAX FACTS

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&#8226 140,000ha grown in UK in 1890.

* Last year Spain was top EU producer with 80,000ha, France 42,000ha, UK 16,700ha.

* 1999 UK crop set to top 20,000ha.

* Only two processors in UK.

* Minimum 1.5t/ha yield to qualify for EU aid – national average over 2.5t/ha last year.

* £500/ha minimum contract price, plus £60/ha when baled, and £50/t when processed.

* £180/ha for seed, fertiliser and sprays leaves £320-820/ha GM.

FLAXFACTS

&#8226 Last year Spain was top EU producer with 80,000ha, France 42,000ha, UK 16,700ha.

&#8226 1999 UK crop set to top 20,000ha.

&#8226 Minimum 1.5t/ha yield to qualify for EU aid – national average over 2.5t/ha in 98.

&#8226 £500/ha minimum contract price, plus £60/ha when baled, and £50/t when processed.

&#8226 £180/ha for seed, fertiliser and sprays leaves £320-820/ha GM.