Linola Production Under Direct Seeding

 

Shawn O’Connell
Alternate Crop Consultant
Columbia Grain Int., Inc., Lewiston, Idaho

 

What is Linola? Linola is a trademark name that identifies a new high quality oilseed. Linola is basically a flax plant that produces a high quality oil suitable for the edible oil market, this transformation is very similar to the process of changing high-erucic rapeseed to canola.

Even though the plant itself is centuries old, Linola is in an infancy stage of development in the oil markets. In 1993 the first ever commercial production of Linola was in Australia, then in 1994 Canada planted approximately 30,000 acres. In 1996 a trial strip was planted on the Palouse, the results where pleasing given the year. In 1997, the planted acreage in Washington & Idaho was 150 acres, the geographical regions varied from Pullman, Washington to Grangeville, Idaho. The average overall yield was 1770 lbs./ac. This consisted of a high of 2300 lbs./ac. and the low of 980 lbs./ac. In 1998 we planted approximately 1500 acres in the PNW. The regions varied from Ritzville to Grangeville, Idaho. As expected, we experienced a wide range of conditions and yields, however this proved to be a valuable year.

The single most important secret to growing a successful field of Linola is stand establishment. I don’t care what kind of soil type you have or the average rainfall area you are in. If you can’t get a good stand established then you might as well not try.

There are 3 keys to stand establishment. 1.) Seed to soil contact (since Linola is a small-seeded crop, seed to soil contact is a must.) 2.) Consistent seeding depth (average seeding depth, should be ½ in.) 3.) Firm seedbed (this is the most important key, a firm seedbed will result in better seed to soil contact and a more uniform seeding depth.

One of the easiest ways to achieve a firm seedbed is to eliminate the cultivating procedure. Direct seeding has proven to be a valuable tool for successful fields of Linola. However, intense management and monitoring is still required when direct seeding Linola. This past year we experienced a wide variation of seeding conditions all of which produced an extreme in yields. It was the 10-16 in. rainfall regions that produced the most challenges. It was in these areas where our mistakes were not so easily corrected with the help of Mother Nature. Most common problems were erratic seeding depth combined with poor seed to soil contact.

Whether conventional seeding or direct seeding the same criteria for a successful crop of Linola is needed. Over the years numerous studies of direct seeding flax has been evaluated in the Canadian Prairie’s. The studies show that in 10-12 in. rainfall areas, direct seeding will out yield conventional tillage by almost the same percentage of additional moisture conserved as compared to conventional tillage practices.

In crop comparison, the most notable difference will be in the lower rainfall areas, mainly 8-10 in. This is mainly due to the flax’s ability to extract more moisture out of the ground than most crops. Most crops’ are able use water down to about 15% moisture, Linola has the ability to extract moisture from the soil down to about 9% moisture. This is beneficial to help maximize moisture availability with yield potential, however this will greatly reduce or even eliminate the possibility of re-crop in the fall.

If re-cropping is a consideration, straw management is a necessity. Flax straw is used to make fine paper products, this works well because of the fiber content in the straw, however, this makes straw management a challenge. The best management practice has been the use of direct seeding into standing stubble with a disc opener drill. Other options consist of using a stubble buster to help break the straw up, moldboard plow the stubble, or last resort is to burn the stubble.

Linola is also a fairly inexpensive crop to grow. Seed cost is about $12.00/ac., fertility will range from $15.00 to $30.00/ac. and herbicide application will range between $15.00 to $25.00/ac.

As I stated earlier, Linola is very new to the oilseed markets. The marketing opportunities are limited, this is why Columbia Grain has been offering 100% production contracts. So many times a new crop is introduced into a region, but there is no market availability. We will continue to offer production contracts until the market becomes evolved enough to be self-supportive.

Columbia Grain believes that Linola is a viable alternative crop that will perform well in almost any crop rotation. In today’s economically challenging times, growers cannot afford to make mistakes; crop stability is a necessity. This is why I believe that Linola has potential in the PNW.


 

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