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 (1). The seeds of most flax cultivars are dark brown, while solin and linola have light-colored seeds. The oil of solin and linola 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, and is typically grown under dryland conditions.


‘Omega’ flax (Richter's Seeds, Ontario, Canada) was sown on May 18, 1999 and May 3, 2000 at the Western Agricultural Research Center, Corvallis, MT. Flax was sown at 30 lb/acre. Plots in 1999 were 8 ft long with 11 rows 9” apart, and in 2000 were 15 ft long with eight rows 12” apart. Four replications were planted each year. Plots, excluding border rows, were harvested on August 8, 1999 and August 10, 2000. Yield was 1937 lb/acre in 1999 and 1226 lb/a in 2000. Flax was also grown in 1998, but yield was low (432 lb/acre) due to poor stand establishment.


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 (2). Minnesota and Wisconsin have reported flaxseed yields of 18-20 bu/a (about 1000 - 1100 lb/a) (3). 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.

Table 1. Oil composition of 'Omega' flax at the Western Agricultural Research Center
Fatty acid
Palmitic (16:0)
Stearic (18:0)
Oleic (18:1)
Linoleic (18:2)
Linolenic (18:3)
Total % oil

Oil analysis was performed by Dr. Gerald Bergman, Eastern Agricultural Research Center, Sidney, MT. Oil was extracted into hexane followed by conversion of the triglycerides to the respective methyl esters. The relative fatty acid methyl ester percentages were then measured using gas-liquid chromatography.


  1. Flax Council of Canada, 465-167 Lombard Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. "Growing flax."
  2. Kephart, K., G. Murray, and D. Auld. 1990. Alternate crops for dryland production systems in northern Idaho. p. 62-67. In: J. Janick and J. E. Simon (eds.), Advances in new crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
  3. Oplinger, E., E. Oelke, J. Doll, L. Bundy, and R. Schuler. 1989. Flax. Alternative Field Crops Manual. University of Wisconsin–Madison, WI, and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.
  4. Small, E. 1999. New crops for Canadian agriculture. p. 15–52. In: J. Janick (ed.), Perspectives on new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.