Initiative on flax backed in Cornwall

17 January 1997

Initiative on flax backed in Cornwall

QUALITY fibre production for the textile industry has received a boost in north Cornwall.

Local farmers have formed a company – Industrial Crops Partnership – to develop production and local processing. It also hopes to secure funding towards the cost of setting up a flax processing plant in the area.

Leading the company are farmer/contractors Andrew MacLeod and Alec Stephens, from near Camelford. Both are large-scale growers of flax. Their project is backed by funding from MAFF and the EU under the Objective 5b scheme.

"We farmers need new sustainable industries," says Mr MacLeod. "With a crop like flax we need to know that it is not just grown for the subsidy, but to process and turn into money. And we need to know when that will happen.

Ideal climate

"Flax needs a maritime climate and the south-west peninsula is ideal," says Mr MacLeod. "And it can be grown on land not registered for arable aid. Already a third of the flax in Britain is grown west of Bristol."

Markets for quality flax fibre other than for linen have been identified with the help of textile consultant Steven Rudkin of De Montfort University, Leicester.

An umbrella organisation, South West Industrial Crops, also set up with 5b funding, will help plan and develop the fibre processing plant this year. It will also help enhance production techniques.

"For instance British flax crops have so far been grown at two-thirds the seed rate the Continentals use for linen fibre production," says Mr MacLeod. "It was reduced here so combines could handle it. But we want to know whether we could improve yields by using higher seed rates."

There is also much to be learnt about retting, says Mr Rudkin.

ICPs target area is 2000ha (5000 acres) this year, which will produce at least 500t of quality fibre. Some will be stored for later processing in Cornwall and the rest processed in Yorkshire.

Straw quality will make a big difference to price, which will range from £35-£100/t of straw initially.

John Burns

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