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The flax man

Agriculture.com Staff 09/10/2007 @ 10:08am

"The trouble with this country," said an old farmer to me recently, "Is that hardly anybody grows flax anymore."

I asked him to elaborate and he was only too happy to oblige. "It's as if we've lost our imaginations. All you see out in the country these days is corn and beans, corn and beans! Why can't folks plant flax and pretty things up some?"

I couldn't disagree. I have always had a soft spot for flax, one of the prettiest and oldest crops known to man.

It's a bit unsettling when you first catch sight of a field of blooming flax. A patch of ground that was a carpet of emerald green a few days earlier is now a glorious sky-blue. It's as if a lake had somehow suddenly formed out in the middle of nowhere, a body of water that, incredibly, runs right up over the hilltops.

The spring when I was fourteen, Dad proposed a deal: In exchange for my labor during that coming summer, I could have a small piece of land to farm.

I jumped at the offer. When asked what I planned to plant, I answered in an instant. Flax.

I would like to say that this decision came about after a diligent and comprehensive study of market conditions. I would like to say I made an intelligent choice based on a cold and calculated analysis.

I would like to say those things, but they wouldn't be true. Flax was selected simply because I thought it looked really pretty in full bloom.

Part of our deal was that I had to pay for some of the expenses, such as seed. When the time to plant flax arrived, I drove to our local grain elevator and purchased eight bushels of seed flax, enough to plant my eight acre patch. As I recall, the seed set me back seven bucks a bushel.

As I loaded the seed, the elevator manager offered me an opportunity to lock in a harvest delivery price of $4.35 per bushel. I would like to say that after considering all possible market contingencies I told him that I would take my chances, but that wouldn't be true. I simply didn't like the term "lock in", and besides, I was too busy imagining how pretty my field of flax would be.

When my flax had grown to about ankle high I noticed that it was infested with various weeds. These would no doubt mar my flax's prettiness and also reduce its yield.

I consulted the elevator manager, who advised me to apply a herbicide. After purchasing eight acres' worth of the recommended weed spray, I made the application, following the label directions to the letter.

Or at least I thought I had. When I went to check on my flax the next day, it was dying! Every flax plant was curled over into a freakish and unnatural posture, mirroring that of the targeted weeds.

My first farming venture was a total bust! I couldn't bring myself to look at the field for several days. I finally did, thinking perhaps I could tear it up and sow some fast-maturing crop and salvage something from the summer.

But, wait! A field of flax stretched out before me like a luxurious emerald-green carpet! I would have hugged it if it were possible to get my arms around those eight acres.

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