22 March 2002

University in bid to tempt flax growers

WELSH farmers are being offered £520/ha (£210/acre) to grow flax on contract to the University of Wales at Bangor.

The EU, the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Development Agency are funding the scheme for three years. To be eligible, farmers need arable experience and land within the EU Objective 1 area of the principality.

North-west Wales is the best area to allow crop monitoring by Bangor scientists and to cut haulage costs to the Caernarfon processing plant, but other sites will be considered.

Geraint Hughes, field manager of the £1.1m flax and hemp project, admits the much-publicised problems faced recently by English flax growers makes farmers wary. But he insists the funding is secure, and that growers will be paid even if weather or disease causes crop failure.

With the early April sowing date approaching he has recruited enough farmers to grow hemp this year, but still needs to find 70ha (173 acres) for flax.

Some potential participants may be put off by variable costs of about £255 to produce about 4t/ha of flax worth only £100 at the processing plant.

"But they will get the £320/ha project payment, and can claim arable aid of £200/ha. Both of these sums are guaranteed."

Growers will get agronomy help and are assured of a buyer as long as the crop is delivered at less than 16% moisture and is not contaminated with weeds or soil, he adds.

Manufacturer BioFibre will turn both crops into matting for use as insulation, to line hanging baskets and to prevent the erosion of road verges.

A new biodegradable product under development is a mat imp-regnated with grass seed and fertiliser for creating instant lawns.

Mr Hughes hopes experience on farms and plot work at the university will make fibre crop production viable without the project subsidies.

"We still hope to sow a total of 250ha of flax and hemp this year and even more in 2003." &#42

FIBRE FOCUS

&#8226 Joint £1.1m EU-funded project.

&#8226 More flax growers wanted.

&#8226 Hemp 2002 area fulfilled.

&#8226 Guaranteed £320/ha + area aid.