Flax (Linum usitatissimum) and industrial hemp are bast plants. The term bast refers to the soft fibers produced in the plant stems as part of the phloem tissue. These fibers help keep the plant upright, as the top of the stalk is developing heavy seed pods, preventing the plant from falling over and dying prematurely. For this reason, bast fibers are naturally strong and durable.
Flax matures quickly in just 100 days. It is an excellent crop to include in rotations with other cereals, grass seed, alfalfa, and oil seed crops. As part of a holistic farm plan to maximize crop production while sequestering carbon, a fiber flax crop can follow vegetables, cereals, cover cropping, or intensive rotational grazing. Fiber flax’s high seeding rate suppresses weeds, and once pulled for harvest leaves a clean field for the next crop without the use of herbicides. It needs very little water to grow, and generally, irrigation is not required for flax unless temperatures are very high after the flowers appear. Fiber flax requires a low Nitrogen input compared with cotton (approx. 30 to 50 lbs. per acre depending on N levels in the soil). Spun flax fiber, or fabric made from this fiber, is called linen, a natural fabric used for more than 5000 years, longer than cotton or wool. In comparison to cotton’s composition at 90% cellulose, flax fibers are approximately 70%, making linen a crisper and shinier fabric. Linen is also non-allergic, very absorbent, dries quickly, is cooler to the touch, has a better uptake of colorants and shrinks less than cotton.
2023 Research & Development
August 2023 - Since 2017, Fibrevolution has been hand pulling fiber flax crops every year. We have enlisted dozens and dozens of family, friends and fiber enthusiasts to assist in the annual flax harvest and seed breeding trials. This has been a community effort for many years. But this season, we have finally acquired a Flax harvester (puller or grubber), a turner and a baler. In a matter of hours we pulled 4.5 acres of Linore fiber flax. It was stunningly quick and so much fun. It is a game changer for us. Are we on our way to reviving linen production in North America, yes! Will we be as skilled and proficient in all aspects of the linen supply chain as Europe, built over thousands of years… not likely. But we are fortunate to build on our own regional fiber flax history and offer a more environmentally positive and socially aware system of domestic natural fiber production in the future.
Production note*** With little to no rain, our spring fiber flax crop was very short, only 2 feet. This was barely tall enough to mechanically pull and you can see plenty of short stems left in the field. Flax groups located in BC and in regions with more spring rain had better results this year and their crops were taller. The remaining acreage in our pictures is to be harvested for seed replication.
Living our best flax life!
July 2023 - Flax in bloom in Sheridan, OR
July 2023 -A Dr. Jennifer G Kling appreciation video!! Since 2012, Jenny has been breeding flax varieties for emerging textile markets in Oregon. We have had the pleasure and opportunity to work alongside Jenny for the past 6 growing seasons and are on the path to some new flax varieties for fiber. Congratulations to Jenny on her recent retirement from Oregon State University as a Senior Research Professor! Her tireless effort and passion for seed breeding will benefit us all as we work to revitalize flax to linen production in Oregon and beyond. A ton of hard work goes on behind the scenes daily. Thankful for our mighty team!!
June 2023 - We have partnered with Garnetts Red Prairie Farm in Sheridan, OR this growing season to grow over 18 acres of fiber flax seed (Linore variety) as well as 4 1/2 acres of flax fiber to trial our new harvesting equipment. This crop is being grown in partnership with the North American Linen Association (NALA) as part of a Yamhill County Grant project.
May 2023 - Fibrevolution's fiber flax harvesting equipment has arrived!!! We're thrilled to scale up production in Oregon. We have acquired a flax puller, turner and round baler specialized for fiber harvesting.
2022 Research & Development
Spring 2022 - We continue to move Jennifer Kling's seed breeding program forward! This is a fall planted, overwinter crop at our research farm in Monroe, OR. The culmination of over 6 years of seed breeding, trial research and scaling up new varieties. Bravo Jennifer!!
Resurrecting a Flax Pulling Machine
Thanks to a grant from McMinnville based clothing brand ARQ we were able to pull an old flax pulling machine out of the archives of the Yamhill County Historical Society and get it up and running again. This is the only machine of it's type currently operating in the United States. A specialized harvesting machine that has been used in past fiber flax trials in the Willamette Valley. We're thrilled to be granted the opportunity to utilize this unique equipment, allowing us to scale up our production of fiber!
Testing the machine in the pasture (not flax)
2021 Research & Development
November 2021 - Flax field has germinated and is coming up beautifully! We battled the rain to get all of the seed in the ground this fall. Thankful we can sit back and watch it grow now. Oregon linen is on the horizon!
October 15, 2021 - Scenes from the field...field prep on 5 acres of land in Alpine, OR for fall planting of fiber flax and seed variety trials.
September 2021 - We are scaling up flax fiber trials for linen in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. An exciting step forward for the Fibrevolution team! We are scaling up our fiber trials and will be utilizing a mechanical flax puller to harvet this crop. Fall planting allows us to grow fiber flax in our region without the need for irrigation. This field will be harvested in June 2022. We have partnered with the Yamhill County Historical Society to restore a flax puller that they have in their collection, for use on our fiber flax trials. We have dug hard to find one of these machines in the USA, and this is the only flax puller we have found still in existence in America. Thankful for the support from our community as we all believe in the viability of linen production in Oregon, and together envision it's revival in our region and beyond.
August 2021 - It has been a long hot summer on the West Coast. Our fiber flax struggled with the heat domes but survived with some decrease in seed yields and fiber length. Linore has partial linseed parentage and gained some drought tolerance from this cross, where other fiber varieties can't survive the high temps. Several factors impacted our crop height: high temps in May, too dense seeding rate, no early spring rains, late weeding, and heat domes in July and August. That is why we also plant in the fall in the Western side of the Cascades in the PNW. Fall plantiing affords a 100% rain fed crop, better seed yield, earlier harvest in the following year, longer retting period, and September baling before the fall rains come. Fiber flax can over winter and survive frost and even snow if the plants are at least 5 inches tall. The drawbacks of fall planting: Weed competition can be fierce in organic production. Stems maybe thicker with more rain. There is a worry that too much rain will lodge the crop (fall over) and make mechanical harvesting difficult. The average height of our Linore flax at the WA farm was 30 inches with a density of 120lb an acre. After many seasons of growing fiber flax, it seems the most effective tool for us is good field preparation. If breaking into an established pasture, disking/tilling and a few months of summer fallow will dramatically decrease the grass creep. Flax following vegetable crops or incorporated cover crops, don't have nearly the weed competition. Development of drought tolerant crops will be a vital part of our fiber farming future.
August 2021 - Harvesting Jennifer Kling's fiber flax seed breeding trials at the Lewis Brown Farm in Corvallis, OR. This field was planted in October 2020, an overwintered crop.
June 2021 - Exciting News!! This is Fibrevolution's new home for research and development. The property will be certified Organic, with the ultimate goal of Regenerative Organic production. Our continued fiber flax seed breeding and fiber quality trials will move to this locaiton, as well as trials of other rotational crops. Follow us on our journey to revitalize flax to linen production in the Pacific Northwest.
2020 Research & Development
Fiber Flax Seed Returns to USA
We are on our way! In 2017 Fibrevolution Co-founders, Angela Wartes Kahl and Shannon Welsh set out on an adventure that has taken them around the world, as they work to revitalize linen production in the USA. The American linen industry suffered a demise in the 1960's, ending linen production in the United States. The first step in rebuilding this industry is securing a commercial quantity of fiber flax seed. In 2017 Angela and Shannon were able to get some small quantities of seed that had been developed through previous fiber flax trials in Oregon. In an effort to scale up seed production, they partnered with Cold Springs Organics in Montana for the past 2 growing seasons. This is a look at their 2020 harvested seed as it is being cleaned at Forbes Seed and Grain, Inc. in Junction City, OR. Half of the 2020 seed crop is certified Organic and the other half is transition to Organic seed. A very exciting development as Fibrevolution is well on their way to scaling up field production for linen.
Please reach out to Fibrevolution if you are interested in purchasing USA grown fiber flax seed; variety 'Linore".
Partnership with Montana Growers
Fibrevolution Co-founders Angela Wartes-Kahl and Shannon Welsh had the opportunity to sit down with Nate Powell-Palm and Esteban Pacheco of Cold Springs Organics in Bozeman, Montana, to learn more about their farming practices and experiences with growing fiber flax seed to help advance Fibrevolution's mission to revitalize flax to linen production in the USA.
Nate Powell-Palm and Esteban of Cold Springs Organics out in the flax field in Montana. This is our seed source for the 2021 fiber flax crop. We have partnered with Nate to grow 10 acres of certified organic fiber flax seed and 10 acres on transitional land moving towards organic. Increasing our seed bank and allowing us to scale up as we revitalize flax to linen production in the USA.
The variety we are growing is Linore, originally developed at Oregon State University. The seed will be cleaned in Eastern Oregon and then shipped to Fibrevolution on the Western side of the state, ready for planting in 2021.
Nathaniel Powell-Palm operates Cold Spring Organics, a certified organic farm outside Belgrade, Montana. He is a first-generation farmer and rancher, with diverse experience across a range of crops, grains, and livestock. Powell-Palm has extensive experience inspecting organic operations around the United States as an independent organic inspector. As an educator he developed curriculum and provided training around the United States and internationally for the International Organic Inspectors Association. He has served on several agricultural boards both at the state and national level. Powell-Palm holds a B.S. in Environmental Science from Montana State University. You can learn more about Nate's work here: National Organic Standards Board Organic Trade Association Rising Star The Millennial Face of Organic
Fiber Flax Seed Breeding Program Developments:
In fall of 2019 Jennifer G Kling planted a half-acre flax field at Lewis Brown Farm, OSU to gather data and advance the variety selections we chose last spring another generation. (see video below to learn more about Jennifer's seed breeding program.)
2019 Research & Development
We partnered with Nathaniel Powell-Palm of Cold Springs Organic Farm, to grow our Organic fiber flax seed this spring at his farm outside of Bozeman, Montana. Nate started farming when he was just 12 years old as part of a grant for a 4-H project. While a junior in high school he applied for Organic certification for his cattle operation in Montana, making him the state’s youngest certified Organic farmer for many years. Since then he has expanded his farm, Cold Springs Organics, into crop production and today is a proven leader in Organic agriculture.
Nate planted 5 acres of our Willamette Valley grown Linore fiber flax seed in Montana in Spring 2019.
After a successful growing season the organic fiber flax seed crop was successfully harvested in August 2019.
Fiber Flax Seed Breeding Program Developments:
Jennifer G Kling Ph.D. Is an independent plant breeding, genetics, and statistics consultant in Corvallis, Oregon. In this video we take a closer look at Jennifer’s seed breeding program with Fibrevolution and where they are headed with developing a fiber flax seed variety for linen production in Oregon.
In 2019 our fiber flax seed breeding plots grew organically, non-irrigated and were overwintered (planted fall 2018) in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (Albany, OR).
All seed was successfully harvested.
After seed selections for the breeding program were made, the remaining plants were pulled, rippled to remove seed pods, and the remaining fiber flax stalks were left in the field to rett.
Field retting trials from these plots were successful.
Our findings: overwintering fiber flax in the Willamette Valley of Oregon is a viable and desirable growing practice for our region to limit water usage/need to irrigate.
Jennifer G Kling, Angela Wartes-Kahl, and Shannon Welsh after successfully harvesting 2019 seed breeding plots.
In the spring of 2018, our flax acreage increased to nearly 15 acres in production. The F2 crosses from our seed breeding program were planted in field plots at Lewis-Brown Farm for a seed increase, ready to test on organic farms in 2019. Three farms throughout the Willamette Valley serve as our farm data collection sites for yields (fiber and seed), harvesting methods, retting times, baling and storage of flax straw for future fiber processing. A focus for this growing season is a comparison of dry farming versus irrigated crops.
In the summer of 2018, in an effort to build relationships and gather as much information and technical assistance as possible, Fibrevolution Co-founders Shannon and Angela visited Belgium, France, and the Netherlands to tour fiber flax farms, processing facilities, linen growers cooperatives, linen textile producers, and machinists to make the connections necessary to import harvesting and manufacturing equipment into the United States. In the fall of 2019 Shannon and Angela traveled to Northern Ireland to attend the Linen Biennale Northern Ireland. The Linen Biennale stimulates new thinking about Ireland’s oldest textile products: flax and linen. Reaching out to the last of a generation who worked in the heyday of Ulster’s linen production, the Linen Biennale forms a bridge to connect Ireland's internationally renowned linen heritage with contemporary uses and highlight the very best in cutting-edge developments from around the world.
2017 Research & Development
Dr. Andrew Hunt, Dr. Jennifer G Kling, Shannon M Welsh, Angela Wartes-Kahl, Dan Curry, Ralph Fisher, Scott Robbins
Together in 2017, our research team bred fiber flax varieties specific to our region, classed flax grown in Oregon, and established procedures for harvesting and field retting future crops. Planting flax on a large scale requires us to create a local source of fiber seed varieties first. Currently there are no fiber flax programs growing commercial quantities of seed in the United States. By establishing a seed breeding program, we can steer the results toward fiber flax best suited to organic systems in our bio-region. Consulting with Alvin Ulrich, President of Biolin Research in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, we learned how to hand grade and class fiber flax. To assess the quality of fiber produced in Oregon, we were able to analyze historical samples as our base, in partnership with the Willamette Heritage Center. We also compared the quality, yield, and environmental aspects of conventional farming versus organic, which leads to a better understanding of how our practices impact the soil and ultimately the longevity of our planet.