Flax as an Alternative Crop in Iowa

Margaret A. Smith, P&S, Value Added Agriculture


Market demand for flax and products containing flaxseed has increased in the last 10 years due to the health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids in the flaxseed. A California-based food company, Spectrum Organics, partnered with an Iowa entrepreneur in 2004 to build a flax oil-crushing facility in Cherokee, Iowa. Spectrum stated that they would like to secure at least 1/ 3 of their flax needs from Iowa and other Midwestern flax producers.

Flax has not been grown in Iowa since the 1960s, resulting in little local knowledge about production of the crop. Producers interested in growing for this market and conventional markets were uncertain about basic agronomic practices and about fair market prices for their grain.


Our objective was to provide information to crop producers considering flax production, to help them successfully plant, grow, harvest and market this specialty grain.


Grants totaling $144,000 were secured to initiate a comprehensive field research program in 2004, including sites at the Northwest Research Center at Calumet and the Agronomy Farm near Ames. The field study includes an evaluation of planting dates, flax cultivars, different weed management strategies and their effects on flax grain yield, oil quantity and quality and flax fiber characteristics. In addition, a partnership with Practical Farmers of Iowa resulted in eight additional on-farm trials that coordinated with the plots studies.

Outreach efforts included:


In 2005, approximately 1000 A of flax was grown in Iowa. Two hundred and twenty-five people participated in winter workshops and gained additional information about flax. Summer 2005 had approximately 300 people who viewed flax in the field and were engaged in discussion and observation about production challenges. Yield and economic impact of the addition of this crop to Iowa cropping systems has not yet been quantified.

121 -- Adding Value and Enhancing Agricultural Products

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