[UPDATED: June 1, 2021] A reinvigorated Flax Council of Canada (FCC) is looking for new members as it focuses on market access issues, says its new CEO Wayne Thompson.
“We’ve got a lot of players in the flax industry that haven’t been part of the Flax Council of Canada before,” Thompson said in an interview May 11. “We know that they have dealt with their own market issues and we want to show them value by being a member of the Flax Council of Canada because if we are all working together, as in any industry, we will be stronger and we’ll have broader and better conversations around the flax council board table… ”
After having a lower profile the last three years the Flax Council of Canada is working to represent Canada’s flax supply chain from farmer to processor.
FCC closed its Winnipeg headquarters Jan. 31, 2018, after 32 years of operation. However, in August of 2018 FCC announced it was “restructuring its board and joining forces with the Canola Council of Canada.”
Under the new structure, the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission (SaskFlax) and Manitoba Flax Growers Association supported flax agronomy and research, including the flax-breeding program at the Crop Development Centre in Saskatoon.
*The canola council focused on market development and access for flax, as well as flax council administration.
Since then the Manitoba Flax Growers Association merged with several other Manitoba crop commodity groups to form the Manitoba Crop Alliance.
FCC closed its doors after Richardson International in late 2017 opted not to renew its membership.
The firm also didn’t renew its membership in the canola council or SOY Canada.
Jean-Marc Ruest, Richardson’s senior vice-president of corporate affairs and general counsel, said in a January 2018 interview the company wanted changes in the organizations, including a single oilseed council to increase efficiency and cut costs.
The three organizations discussed that option, but didn’t reach an agreement, Thompson said May 11, 2021.
“So the Flax Council of Canada then proceeded with engaging with current Flax Council of Canada members and other industry stakeholders to determine if there’s a need for a Flax Council of Canada association to represent the industry at the national level,” he said. “The response was yes, and then the board developed a new business plan… and that has led to a reinvigoration of the board and organization to carry out a membership drive to encourage the companies that are in the flax industry — buyers, traders, processors, exporters, all those different forms of the supply chain here in Canada and see what interest there is in being a member.”
SaskFlax and MCA, which represent flax farmers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba remain members of FCC.
SaskFlax and MCA, which have provided agronomic services for farmers, will continue in that role, Thompson said.
SaskFlax will also continue working on market development.
Thompson, who was appointed FCC’s new CEO, continues as SaskFlax’s executive director.
“We’re not the biggest commodity in Canada so we’re looking for a few efficiencies,” Thompson said. “This was one of the things that everyone thought would be a good idea to proceed with.”
FCC now has two types of membership — general and special.
A general membership costs $10,000 a year and comes with a seat on the board of directors.
Special memberships cost $2,500 and allow members to take part in council discussions and provide input.
“We’ve gone to a straight fee based on the level of involvement members would want with the flax council,” Thompson said. “We’re not basing it on any sales volumes or export volumes that a company maybe exporting or processing. We’re making it fairly simple at this point in time as we go through the reinvigoration of the flax council.”
There are always market issues to deal with. For example the European Union is looking to set limits on cadmium, a heavy metal, sometimes found in flax.
Japan is also restricting imports of Canadian flax over concerns about cyangenic glycosides, naturally occurring toxins sometimes found in a number of plants.
Forty years ago flax was one of Western Canada’s six major grains and oilseeds, but acreage and production declined as other crops surpassed it.
Last year Manitoba farmers seeded 44,000 insured flax acres and averaged a record 32 bushels an acre provincially.
The 10-year average yield is just 20 bushels an acre.
Statistics Canada estimates western farmers will seed 981,500 acres of flax this spring, up about 50,000 from 2020.
Most of those acres will be in Saskatchewan followed by Alberta.
“The profitability of flax is quite good compared to the other crops,” Thompson said. “Yes, the yield may struggle sometimes but the price of flax and the cost of the inputs usually put the profitability pretty much in line with all of the other crops that a farmer grows on their farm.”
Flax also provides another rotation option, which helps fight diseases, insects and weeds.
“Old crop we’ve seen very strong prices up until recently, but there are still good prices out there because the supply is definitely tighter than it has been the last few years,” he said. “Demand from around the world for Canadian flax is still very strong. It’s sometimes very difficult to find supply right now. And for new crop we’re seeing strong prices compared to historical numbers.”
Canadian flax exports took a hit in 2009 after very small amounts of genetically modified (GM) Triffid flax was found in shipments.
“We’re still monitoring it,” Thompson said. “It is not the big concern it was in the past for sure. Farmers have done a very good job of cleaning out Triffid from the system. In the EU we’re seeing an increased demand from the buyers there because we do have quality and safe flax in Canada and they have been diversifying their purchases out of the Black Sea region and the last couple of years there has been strong demand out of the European Union for Canadian flax.”
Traditionally flax was used in paint and flooring but the oilseed, high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid, is gaining in food markets.
“The consumer demand for flax as a food that provides a lot of health benefits is something that they are demanding more and more of,” he said. “We’re seeing an increased demand, thanks to the pandemic, for food with health benefits.”
*Update: Additional information on market development was added.