Montana State University

Western Ag Research Center

580 Quast Lane
Corvallis, MT   59828

Tel: (406) 961-3025
Fax: (406) 961-3026

Superintendent

Mal Westcott

Administrative Associate

Deb Harrison
dharrison@montana.edu

'Omega' Flax

Nancy W. Callan, Mal P. Westcott, Susan Wall-MacLane, and James B. Miller

Western Agricultural Research Center
Montana State University

    Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) may be grown for fiber (linen) or for oil.  Two kinds of flax are grown for oil, which is pressed from the seeds.  The common flax yields the industrial linseed oil.  Linseed oil has many uses, from paints to linoleum, oilcloth, soap, and ink.  Linseed oil contains high levels of linolenic acid, which makes it dry quickly but also causes it to be subject to rancidity.  The other type of flax is called solin.  Solin is a generic term given to flax with low linolenic acid, and "Linola" is a Canadian trademarked brand of solin.  The seeds of most flax cultivars are dark brown.  The oil of solin and linola, which have light-colored seeds, is not prone to rancidity and is more suitable as a cooking oil.

    'Omega' flax was developed for the food industry.  It produces oil high in linolenic acid, as do the industrial types, but has light colored seeds.  Linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been reported to have health benefits.   

     Flax is produced in Argentina, the United States, Canada, the former USSR, India, and Uruguay (2), and is typically grown under dryland conditions. 

Western Agricultural Research Center 

    ‘Omega’ flax (Richter's Seeds, Ontario, Canada) was sown on May 18, 1999 and May 3, 2000 at 30 lb/acre.  Plots in 1999 were 8 ft long with 11 rows 9” apart, and in 2000 were 15 ft long with eight rows 12” apart.  Four replications were planted each year.  Plots, excluding border rows, were harvested on August 8, 1999 and August 10, 2000.  Yield was 1937 lb/acre in 1999 and 1226 lb/a in 2000.  Flax was also grown in 1998, but yield was low (432 lb/acre) due to poor stand establishment. 

  Table 1.  Oil composition of 'Omega' flax at the Western Agricultural Research Center, Corvallis, MT 

Fatty acid

Percent

 

1998 1999
Palmitic (16:0) 4.8 4.8
Stearic (18:0) 4.0 4.0
Oleic (18:1) 21.5 17.8
Linoleic (18:2) 15.7 16.3
Linolenic (18:3) 53.0 55.2

Total % oil

39.7 42.2

Oil analysis by Dr. Gerald Bergman,  Eastern Agricultural Research Center, Sidney, MT.  Oil was extracted into hexane followed by conversion of the triglycerides to the respective methyl esters.  The relative fatty acid methyl ester percentages were then measured using gas-liquid chromatography.

Discussion

        Yield of 'Omega' flax was good when grown under irrigation at the Western Agricultural Research Center, although dryland production is most common.  Experimental oilseed flax yields of 700-1600 lb/a were obtained in northern Idaho, while yields of 535 lb/a were common in North Dakota (3).  Minnesota and Wisconsin have reported flaxseed yields of 18-20 bu/a (about 1000 - 1100 lb/a) (4).  While high yields were achieved at WARC under irrigation, dryland production would be expected to be lower.  The economic feasibility of ‘Omega’ flax would depend upon growing costs,  the current market price (about $0.20/lb for organic 'Omega' flax in 2000), and the target market, whether organic or conventional.  

Additional Information about Flax

Publications:

1.  Flax Council of Canada, 465-167 Lombard Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  "Growing flax." 

Web Pages:

2.  Duke, J. A.  1983.  Handbook of energy crops (unpublished), “Linum usitatissimum L.”  

3.  Kephart, K., G. Murray, and D. Auld. 1990. Alternate crops for dryland production systems in northern Idaho. p. 62-67. In: J. Janick and J. E. Simon (eds.), Advances in new crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.  

4.  Oplinger, E., E. Oelke, J. Doll, L. Bundy, and R. Schuler. 1989. Flax. Alternative Field Crops Manual.  University of Wisconsin–Madison, WI, and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.    

5.  Small, E. 1999. New crops for Canadian agriculture. p. 15–52. In: J. Janick (ed.), Perspectives on new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA. 

6.  New Crops for Australia.  Linola.