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Fibre-flax, an old and a new crop in north-western Germany

O.Christen and E. Heger

Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding, Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel, Olshausenstr. 40,2300 Kiel 1 Germany

Historical aspects

Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) is one of the oldest crops in cultivation; records indicate that it has been cultivated for 3000 years in most parts of Europe, including north-western Germany in more recent times. Until the 1940s, the only high quality fibre flax in Europe was grown in France and Belgium.

Organisation of the project

As a contribution to solving the problem of overproduction of 'traditional' agricultural products in Germany the cultivation of fibre flax was reintroduced in Schleswig-Holstein in 1985 in a cooperative project between the local government and the Christian-Albrechts-University, Kiel and started in practical farming in 1986 on a mere three hectares. As a part of this cooperative approach a private company was established to provide the entire technology of fibre flax production.

Current research

In 1989 the largest area of some 800 ha of fibre flax was planted in Schleswig-Holstein. The results of a survey conducted during the years 1987 to 1991 are summarised in Table 1. The financial success of this project relies on the complete use of the different products and by- products for technical (tow) or nutritional purposes (linseed). To ensure a high yield and a higher oil content of linseed a special device was developed to harvest the by-product linseed before the dew retting process.

Field experiments on different sites in Schleswig-Holstein focused on sowing density and sowing technique with the aim of producing a high quality fibre. Seed densities of 2000 seeds/ m2 compared with 2500 seeds per sq.m. with a distance of only 8 cm between the rows produced the most even stands and subsequently the highest green flax yield.

Table 1. Area planted, yield and quality parameters of fibre flax in Schleswig-Holstein, north-western Germany, in the years 1987 to 1991 (survey data by E. Heger).

Earlier reports of a possible high cadmium content led to a major concern about the nutritional value of linseed. Analysis of the Cd content of linseed grown in Schleswig-Holstein revealed that in 20% the tolerance level of 6 ppm Cd was exceeded. Some varieties had a higher Cd level, but the interaction with soil type and mineral fertilisation needs further research.

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