An influx of flax in North Dakota
If June estimates stick, North Dakota farmers will have planted about 100,000 acres more of flax seed this year over 2009 and state Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring only expects to see an increase next year.
North Dakota produces more than 95 percent of the nation's flax and that's remarkable, he said.
Flax seed demand is rising and a local health store and a local processing facility can attest to that.
Stone Mill Inc., Richardton, which processes brown and golden flax seeds, doubled the size of its facility in 2008 to accommodate the food flax market, Vice President Daneen Dressler said.
The facility takes the seed from farmers and "takes out dirt, stones, wheat and anything that's not a flax seed," she said. It is then packaged for the bulk food industry.
Stone Mill has been in business since 1979 and Dressler said 15 years ago flax seed really gained popularity and ever since, demand has grown.
North Dakota farmers planted about 390,000 acres of flax in 2010, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture June estimates. This compares to 295,000 acres in 2009, according to the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service.
Farmers planted about 410,000 acres of flax across the entire country this year, June forecasts show. McLean and Ward counties are among the top producers but flax is planted throughout the state, according to NASS. Final numbers will be ready Jan. 12.
Flax is about 85 percent of Stone Mill's business, said accountant Mark Rummel. Within the last six months the facility added a color sorter, he said, adding they don't want to mix brown and gold flax seeds to keep a purer product.
There has been an increase in flax acres for a couple of reasons, Goehring said. Flax seed is a flexible crop that can be planted early or late. Also, there is a strong demand -- especially for U.S. flax, he said.
"Canada is another major supplier of flax and they had trouble in the European market and U.S. producers stepped up to the plate," Goehring said. "North Dakota is quite frankly second-to-none in flax seed."
The state has the right topography, geography and moisture levels to benefit the plant and it is beneficial in rotation, he said.
Dressler said the health benefits of flax seed include immunity, skin moisture, hair strength and the outer shell or flax lignans, have great hormonal benefits for women.
Besides its multiple uses in the health food industry, it is used in premium dog foods to enhance canines' coats and immunity. Flax is also used in the textile industry.
Colors of Health owner Linda Krank said, "I think it's one of the more healthy things we can take on a daily basis."
The Dickinson health food store sells whole seeds, ground seeds, capsules and oil.
The seeds provide fiber in addition to essential fatty acids, she said. This helps with digestion and keeps the intestinal track clean, she said, adding the oil is also good for joints, skin and hair.
"Our digestion is so important as far as keeping everything moving," Krank said.
Rummel said flax seed is high in omega-3, doctors suggest it and many people are switching to it instead of fish oil.
"People are worried about mercury so they are turning to flax for a purer source of omega-3," Rummel said.
Many customers grind seeds to put in shakes and others use whole flax seed as an ingredient in bread mixes, pastas and more.