Flax (Linum usitatissimum), a native of Asia, is the source plant for the production of linen, linseed oil, edible flax, and coarse and fine paper products. Among these products, the most important has been linseed oil, long used in the manufacture of paint, varnish, and lacquers. Flax is also used to produce linoleum, oilcloth, and printer's ink, although its importance has waned with the advent of more synthetic materials and increased use of soy-based inks.
Flax has traditionally been planted as a fiber crop, where the plants are tall (up to four feet), and as an oilseed crop (linseed oil, edible flax). Fiber flax was raised in the United States from 1658, when it was first introduced in the colonies, until about 1956. All flax fiber used for paper production is now imported from Canada.
The flax production area in North America has shifted north since 1945. The 146,000 acres of flax harvested in the United States in 1997 is a drastic drop from the 6.2 million acres harvested in nineteen states in 1943. The United States currently ranks sixth in world flax production, while neighboring Canada ranks first. Flax is ideally suited to the cool spring temperatures and moderate summer temperatures found in the Northern Great Plains of the United States and the Prairie Provinces of Canada. In 1997, 1,946,000 bushels of flax were harvested in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota, while 35,928,571 bushels were harvested in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
See also INDUSTRY: Oilseeds.
Kenneth C. Dagel Missouri Western State College
Mitchell, E. J. Flax Facts. Minneapolis: Japs-Olson Press, 1944.