Nancy W. Callan, Mal P. Westcott, Susan Wall-MacLane, and James B. Miller
Western Agricultural Research Center
Montana State University
Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) may be grown for fiber (linen) or for oil. Two kinds of flax are grown for oil, which is pressed from the seeds. The common flax yields the industrial linseed oil. Linseed oil has many uses, from paints to linoleum, oilcloth, soap, and ink. Linseed oil contains high levels of linolenic acid, which makes it dry quickly but also causes it to be subject to rancidity. The other type of flax is called solin. Solin is a generic term given to flax with low linolenic acid, and "Linola" is a Canadian trademarked brand of solin. The seeds of most flax cultivars are dark brown. The oil of solin and linola, which have light-colored seeds, is not prone to rancidity and is more suitable as a cooking oil.
'Omega' flax was developed for the food industry. It produces oil high in linolenic acid, as do the industrial types, but has light colored seeds. Linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been reported to have health benefits. Flax is produced in Argentina, the United States, Canada, the former USSR, India, and Uruguay (2), and is typically grown under dryland conditions.
Yield of 'Omega' flax was good when grown under irrigation at the Western Agricultural Research Center, although dryland production is most common. Experimental oilseed flax yields of 700-1600 lb/a were obtained in northern Idaho, while yields of 535 lb/a were common in North Dakota (3). Minnesota and Wisconsin have reported flaxseed yields of 18-20 bu/a (about 1000 - 1100 lb/a) (4). While high yields were achieved at WARC under irrigation, dryland production would be expected to be lower. The economic feasibility of ‘Omega’ flax would depend upon growing costs, the current market price (about $0.20/lb for organic 'Omega' flax in 2000), and the target market, whether organic or conventional.
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