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Flax offers option for valley growers, backers say

By MITCH LIES

For the Capital Press

Oilseed flax offers an alternative rotation crop for grass seed and wheat growers in the Willamette Valley.

The ever-expanding Midwest cover crop market has increased opportunities for Willamette Valley seed producers to grow alternative crops such as radish and clover seed.

Willamette Biomass Processors hopes valley growers also consider growing oilseed flax.

The Rickreall, Ore-based oilseed processor has increased the number of acres it contracts for flax seed each of the last three years and hopes to do so again this summer.

Tomas Endicott, vice president of business development for Willamette Biomass, makes a convincing argument that flax production fits well in grass and wheat rotations, is easy to grow and profitable.

“Growers looking for a broadleaf rotation, broad-spectrum weed control in-crop, with no seed cleaning and quick payment just 30 days after harvest will understand the value of flax,” Endicott said.

Carl Haugerud, of Scio, Ore., said he has had good experiences with flax since adding it to his rotation in 2010. “We have been able to improve our grassy weed control and disease control in our following winter wheat crop,” Haugerud said.

Net returns for flax are similar to wheat in most years, Endicott said, especially when grown on less-productive wheat ground. Flax also can be grown on heavier annual ryegrass ground where it is not in standing water, Endicott said.

Flax typically is planted in early spring, does not require irrigation, and is harvested in August. Yields in the Willamette Valley have averaged around 2,000 pounds to the acre, Endicott said.

Willamette Biomass sells processed flax seed to livestock producers, pet-food manufacturers and a small amount to specialty product manufacturers.

The crop competes for acreage with several alternative crops that have risen in popularity in the Willamette Valley in recent years due to the expansion of the Midwest cover crop market, including radish.

Radish seed production in Oregon has increased from around 2,500 acres in 2010 to an estimated 15,000 this summer, according to Terry Ross of Integrated Seed Growers in Amity, Ore.

Radish is excellent at building soil organic matter, breaking up soil compaction, increasing water infiltration, scavenging for nutrients and suppressing weeds, Ross said.

“Radish markets are continuing to expand,” Ross said. “Five years ago, the white radish that was grown here in the Willamette Valley was going primarily to the sprouting market. The cover crop market is definitely the big dog in the show now.”

Crimson clover seed production also has increased substantially in the valley in recent years, Ross said, going from around 7,500 acres in 2010 to around 13,000 acres this summer. Crimson clover is the most widely produced clover in the valley, Ross said.

In pounds shipped, annual ryegrass seed is Oregon’s biggest contributor to the Midwest cover crop market, Ross said. He estimated that seed companies move between 20 million and 25 million pounds of seed annually into the Midwest cover crop market.



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