On this date in 1902, many North Dakota farmers were facing the aftermath of an early frost. There was concern for the flax crop, which had frosted before it reached maturity. Some growers thought the crop should be harvested as soon as possible. Others wanted to wait. Professor Bolley of the North Dakota Agricultural College was in the latter camp. He advised growers to exercise patience.
Bolley explained that those who wanted to harvest flax early were making a mistake by comparing flax to wheat. Grains of wheat are attached to a strong, thick stalk. When harvested while green, wheat still has the potential to mature. Flax is a much more fragile crop. The branches are small. They dry up and wilt right away, and don’t give the grain an opportunity to mature. The cut flax could get moldy and spoil. Flax should not be cut until it turns brown. Unless the frost was hard enough to freeze the grains, the flax could still ripen. In short, Professor Bolley thought growers had a great deal to lose by harvesting early – perhaps their entire crop.
There are two types of flax. Fiber flax is grown for the fiber in the stem. Seed flax is grown for the oil in its seed. Producers on the Great Plains grow seed flax. Today North Dakota is the largest producer of flaxseed in the United States, providing over 90 percent of the country’s crop. The North Dakota flaxseed crop is estimated at a value of $45 million per year. Despite that, the United States has been a net importer of flaxseed. Currently, there are only three programs in the country that research flax breeding, and one of them is at North Dakota State University.
Flaxseed is valued as a high fiber and Omega-3 rich health food. The use of flaxseed oil has doubled annually in recent years, and laying hens fed flaxseed produce eggs high in Omega-3 oil. Researchers are also looking into the potential of flaxseed as feed for cattle, possibly raising the demand for flax.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Washburn Leader. “Frosted Flax.” 27 September 1902. Washburn ND. Page 1.
North Dakota State University Plant Sciences. “Flax Production.” https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/plantsciences/research/flax/production Accessed 19 August 2018.
North Dakota State University. “Flax Production in North Dakota.” https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/agnic/flax/historyNDflaxproduction.htm Accessed 19 August 2018.