About the Author
  • Jennifer is a self proclaimed country girl born and raised in Northern California. After joining social media, Jenny met a farmer from North Dakota. She followed her heart all the way to the rural prairies of ND where she is now married to that farmer. Besides spending time with her farmer, Jenny can be found with a camera in hand capturing the world around her, loves the challenges of bringing culture to the North Dakota prairie through a variety of culinary creations, and using her interior design degree to flip their bachelor pad into a home. All of this and more can be found on her photography blog: jldphotographblog.com.
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Going Back to a Crop of the Past...

by Jennifer_Dewey ‎06-18-2014 10:58 AM - edited ‎07-23-2014 04:06 PM

I have written quite a bit about the future in Agriculture. I’ve written about thinking outside the box and being willing to adapt and accept new things in your farming operation. But sometimes thinking outside the box may be trying something we used to do, bringing back something of the past. This year on our farm, we are doing just that. We needed a crop to go into some production land that has had wheat on it for a couple of years. Two weeks ago I wrote about our crop rotation and while we maintain that rotation throughout our fields, sometimes it just isn’t possible.


So we needed a new crop. Our answer? Going back to something we used to grow. Flax.


Where did flax come from?

Flax is actually one of the oldest fiber crops in the world. It is said to have originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe, but it was extensively cultivated in ancient China and Egypt. In fact, the linen cloth that wrapped mummies in Egypt has been found to contain flax fibers. Flax production made it to the United States for commercial production somewhere around 1753 and became a popular crop as the upper Midwest and parts of Canada were settled during the 1800s. Today, worldwide, the top producers of flax are the Soviet Union, Poland, and France.


Where is flax grown?  

Flax is a crop that is traditional to North Dakota. Back when people first settled here and broke the native prairies, flax was one of the crops produced. Because flax thrives in moderate summer temperatures and rainfall along with fertile clay soils, the North Central part of the country is where flax has traditionally been grown.


Flax has a history in other North Central states such as South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In Alternative Field Crops Manual put out by the University of Wisconsin Extension in 1989, they reported that “Wisconsin had 2,000 acres for seed in the state in 1966… Minnesota had 378,000 acres in 1920 and over 1,600,000 in 1943. Since 1943, acreage has steadily declined with only 15,000 acres grown in 1988. “


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If we take a look at the 2013 Flaxseed Planted Acres by County, we can see the current numbers of production for selected states such as North Dakota. Even though we and many other farmers in the area have moved onto growing other crops, North Dakota continues to rank first in flaxseed production with more than 90 percent of the nation’s flax crop grown here. Flax grown in North Dakota is often used in a crop rotation along with other small grains such as barley and wheat.  Flax is also traditionally and continues to be grown in Canada as well.


So what is flax used for?

Producers typically grow two types of flax: seed flax for the oil in its seeds and fiber flax for the fiber in its stem. Today most grow flax for the oil and food use in the United States. Flax seed is crushed and used to produce linseed oil and leftover linseed meal. The oil has many uses while the meal is used for livestock feed. The fiber seeds are used to a variety of paper products and linens. Apparently cigarette paper is a major flax paper product. Who knew!?


With the trend towards eating healthier, flaxseed has gained in popularity. Flaxseed contains high levels of dietary fiber, lignans (antioxidants), and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have suggested the benefits of flaxseed on lowering cholesterol levels or in those with breast and prostate cancers. Although no conclusive evidence has been produced. I certainly know that I have seen it pop up more and more in recipes for healthy baked goods as well as in things like smoothies and energy bites.


Being that I am originally from California, I have never seen flax in production. I was very excited when my husband announced that we would be planting it this year. I look forward to watching it grow and getting the opportunity to firsthand learn about an entirely new crop. I have heard it is beautiful when it blooms! Stay tuned and I hope you look forward to following along and learning with me!


Here is what our flax looks like right now.


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