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item Foulk, Jonn
item Akin, Danny
item McAlister Iii, David

Submitted to: Production, Processing, and Use of Natural Fibers Meeting
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/5/2002
Publication Date: 9/11/2002
Citation: Proceedings of Production, Processing and Use of Natural Fibers. Potsdam University and Agrartechnik Bornim, Potsdam, Germany, pp 1-8.

Interpretive Summary: Worldwide, land cultivated for flax accounts for 12 million acres with conditions in northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands providing the highest quality fibers. In the U. S., currently the only commerical flax is grown for oilseed in the northern plain states. While globally the U. S. is the largest per capita consumer of flax fiber, very limited quantities of flax are grown for fiber in the U.S. The United States, as in Europe, is pursuing natural fibers as sustainable, environmentally friendly sources for a variety of industrial applications. Production of flax for fiber could provide a new crop for U. S. farmers. Results are important in showing that flax fiber can be produced successfully to address ARS priorities for new crops, improved rural economies, and improved global competitiveness. Research on flax fiber production, enzyme-retting, and standards development is urgent to support interest in the U. S., and globally as well, for cost efficient, value-added fibers for sustainable agriculture and new bio-based products.

Technical Abstract: Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.), which has been grown throughout the world for millennia, is the source of the products for existing, high-value markets in the textile, composite, paper/pulp, and industrial/nutritional oil sectors. Flax fiber has customarily been divided into two classes, namely long line fiber and tow, which is short staple fiber as a byproduct of long-line production. Traditionally, the more valuable long-line fiber flax harvesting was performed by workers who manually pulled plants from the soil. More recently, long-line fiber harvesting is carried out with expensive and specialized equipment. After specialized processing for high-value, long-line fiber, short and non-aligned tow is collected as a by-product and sold for short staple textiles and for other industrial applications. Globally, interest exists for harvesting a total fiber yield from flax, in addition to other harvests for traditional long-line fiber, for a variety of industrial applications. The desire of fibers such as flax, kenaf, and hemp for use in the automotive sector (e.g., as a replacement for glass fiber) is an important incentive in these efforts. Production of non-aligned total fiber permits less demanding harvest methods and requires subsequent processing for specific properties for industrial applications. In the U.S., a similar emphasis exists for bio-based technologies that encourage research and development of flax and other natural fibers for a variety of industrial applications. The long-term goal is to develop and environmentally friendly processing method to deliver flax fiber with specific characteristics required for various industries. Flax fibers may aid in the goal of sustainable agriculture by providing an alternative crop (winter crop for double-cropping in subtropical climates; new fiber products from byproduct linseed straw in the northern U.S., Canada, and Europe). Support of the flax fiber industry globally, and the development of one in the U.S., requires more consistent high quality fibers for industrial applications and an environmentally friendly fiber crop (low amounts of insecticide, herbicide and fertilization). Cost efficient harvesting, with traditional farm equipment where possible, improved retting, and standards to judge fiber quality are important areas of research for flax fiber production globally as well in the U.S.