Due to its tough, durable characteristics, flax is one of the oldest textiles. Long fibres are used for weaving and geo-textiles, whilst shorter fibres are being used for packaging materials and plastic alternatives. In 2003 2,000ha of flax was grown in the UK.
Establishment in cold weather can be slow; therefore sowing in early March should be avoided. Flax should ideally be grown on light soils with an optimum pH of 5.5 to 6. To encourage emergence, it is important to drill into a fine seedbed. Yields can reach nearly 2t/ha, but average yields in the UK are just over 0.5t/ha, however, this can be dramatically affected by late-season lodging.
Harvesting usually takes place towards the end of August through to late September, when the whole plant is dry. Once lower leaves have fallen, the crop is pulled to allow the full-length fibres to be obtained. The crop is then retted on the ground to help decomposition of the pectins that hold the fibres together.
The nitrogen requirement of flax is a lot lower than that of linseed, with many crops sometimes given no nitrogen at all. Excess applications of nitrogen encourages sappy growth that reduces the quality of the fibres. Phosphate and potash requirements are similar to those for linseed production, which is best applied to the seedbed.