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Flax Council of Canada clarifies its transition

The council will close its physical office Jan. 31 and the Manitoba 
Flax Growers Association, which shares the facility, is leaving it too

The Flax Council of Canada will continue operating with a part-time administrator after closing its office in downtown Winnipeg Jan. 31, council president Brian Johnson said in an interview Jan. 15.

Meanwhile, the Manitoba Flax Growers Association, which shares that office in the old Grain Exchange Building, will also leave at the end of this or next month, Flax Growers’ association chair Eric Fridfinnson said.

“We’ll be making a decision over the next little while what our long-term future will be,” Fridfinnson said, referring to the location of a new office.

Monika Haley, who has worked for both the council and association, has agreed to continue administering the Flax Growers in the interim, Fridfinnson said. However, she will no longer work for the council.

There’s a possibility the Flax Growers will work out of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association Carman office eventually, Fridfinnson, who farms at Arborg, said.

The association might also ask one of the other commodity groups in that office to assist with administration.

In addition to the Corn Growers, the wheat and barley, soybeans and pulse and sunflower associations are headquartered in that office.

The Flax Growers, along with those other groups, are currently exploring merging to make better use of farmers’ checkoff contributions.

However, the decision which rests with farmers, won’t be voted on until February 2019.

That leaves the Flax Growers in bit of a quandary.

“We have a pretty small organization,” Fridfinnson said. “With the discussions I don’t really get into hiring staff because they might have a lot of uncertainty in the future.

“It is what it is and we have to deal with it. We’ve got some ideas of a direction. We’re working with the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission on an agronomy program for the next five years. So we’re still moving forward and accomplishing some things. That’s about all we can do at this time.”

The flax council will no longer have an agronomist. Johnson, who is also president of Johnson seeds in Arborg, said the staff cuts and office closing are the result of reduced revenues. The council is funded by voluntary levies submitted by companies selling flax domestically and abroad. Some companies have opted not to contribute.

Reduced flax production has also hurt revenues, he said.

“This whole thing is unfortunate because we’ve been caught with a couple of things happening at the same time,” Fridfinnson, said. “We’ve had a few smaller companies want to take a free ride and not contribute to the council. That naturally got the ire up of a couple of the bigger ones that continue to contribute.

“It’s a situation that’s going to hurt everybody. But the two grower organizations (in Manitoba and Saskatchewan) are still here and we’re going to try and do the best we can.”

The flax council, which has years of good information on the health benefits of flax, will also continue to promote flax, Johnson said.

The work has already paid off, resulting in flax being used in cereals, breads, nutrition bars, eggs (omega-3) and pet foods.

“We’re going to be re-evaluating over the next few months and try to maybe come up with a different funding model as well,” he added.

“We just had to cut back on expenses. We will still have a person working part time managing the office. It will be off site. It will be managed at least three days a week.”

Johnson and Fridfinnson say flax has a lot of potential for farmers. Average provincial flax yields are believed to have set a new record in 2017. (The results will be published by the Manitoba Agricultural Services in Yield Manitoba 2018 next month.)

While 2017 was a good growing year, Johnson and Fridfinnson also credit flax council agronomist Rachel Evans’ work in developing best management practices for growers.

“Rachel did an absolutely fantastic job,” Johnson said. “I am very disappointed not to have her there. She was very instrumental in really putting an agronomic program together and supplying growers with best management practices. It has really helped boost the flax yield. That was the missing piece for many years.”

With improved yields flax is a very profitable crop and good for farmers’ rotation, Johnson added.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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