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Seed early and heavily to boost flax

A good start is key to ensuring the crop’s competitiveness

Flax markets are still flat despite demand as a health ingredient in Canada and the U.S., but the crop represents a strong option for western Canadian producers.

It’s especially suited to those looking to diversify the rotation, said Dane Froese, Manitoba Agriculture oilseed specialist at this year’s Crop Diagnostic School.

“Flax is a non-host for most of the major diseases in Western Canada. It breaks up disease host cycles and offers a clean break from canola or wheat crops,” said Froese in an interview.

With the right agronomic approach, flax can be an economic alternative to canola, corn and wheat.

Flax isn’t naturally competitive, and before selective herbicide options hit the market in the 1990s the crop was planted in June so weeds could be tilled under first, Froese said in his presentation.

Recommendations have since undergone a major change: to get the most out of the crop, producers are now urged to focus on stand establishment as early as possible in the season.

“I encourage farmers to seed earlier to avoid heat stresses and drier conditions that come with seeding later in spring,” said Froese. “Make sure you have a thick enough, competitive stand.”

Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation data shows flax producers can achieve 100 per cent of potential yield by seeding prior to May 22, he said. Highest yields occur when flax is seeded prior to May 15, with seed placed at a depth of 1.25 inches in dry soil.

Seeding earlier means flax will be shorter; the later it’s seeded the taller and more fibrous it gets, which can mean wear and tear on the combine.

Producers should also seed fairly heavily to combat weed pressure, said Froese.

“Ideally I’d recommend seeding at a rate of at least one bushel/acre, and trending higher to account for weed competition, especially if no pre-seed residual and/or burn-off application was done,” said Froese.

Froese’s CDS demonstration included side-by-side flax plots seeded at rates of 0.75 bu./ac., 1.0 bu./ac. and 1.25 bu./ac., adjusted for germination percentage.

All three treatments were repeated for three seeding dates — May 8, May 23 and June 5.

Flax is still a good option for growers looking for rotational options.
photo: Dane Froese

Very few weeds were present in the plot with the lowest seeding rate of 42 lbs./ac., which was treated with Authority and glyphosate pre-seed. Glyphosate alone was used pre-seed on the middle plot with a seeding rate of 56 lbs./ac. of seed, but still, relatively few weeds were observed. In the final plot, which was seeded at a rate of 70 lbs./ac. without any pre-seed treatment, the flax crop appeared to be competing well against weed pressure.

But producers should keep a handle on weeds no matter the approach they take prior to seeding, said Froese. “Make sure you’ve got a clean field to start with and then take care of weeds throughout the growing season.”

Harvest management is also key to getting the best possible flax crop.

“Be aware of fungicide timing,” said Froese. “By pushing too late you might have a greener plant later in the season and you don’t have the drying-down days.”

Froese also recommends caution for producers considering a pre-harvest application to take care of weeds. “By the time the farmer might consider spraying, the flax crop has dried down enough that there isn’t enough leaf surface area or green leaves attached to the plant to take in herbicide to effectively terminate it.

“Unless you go early enough it’s wasted money, and then you walk a fine line between spraying too early and locking in immature seed rather than getting control,” he said.

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