Iowa farmers got a chance to learn about growing a crop that’s part of a new wave of health products at a workshop this past weekend. Margaret Smith works in Iowa State University’s value-added agriculture program and says the workshop discussed opportunities to grow flax seed. She says flax is grown in the Dakotas and western Minnesota, but not in Iowa at this time, because it hasn’t been competitive with soybeans and corn. Flax seed has become a more desirable crop as it’s full of fiber and oil that’s used in health foods. Smith says while the popularity of flax for such uses has increased its demand, it also puts some added requirements on growers. She says growers says producing organic flax is a challenge. She says it’s not a big crop that blocks out weeds, and you can’t use weed killers, so it creates a challenge. Smith says a California company is looking into possible flax growers in Iowa for seed that could be processed in Cherokee. She says they always are interested in requests for new types of crops, as they’re always looking for alternative ways to generate income. She says it all depends though on the costs involved, as she says in the case of flax seed, it’s more challenging and more work. Smith says flax seed is an example of the problems faced by trying to find new crops in the state were corn and soybeans are king. She says there’s not a big alternative crop on the horizon. She says most of the alternatives are going to be smaller niche markets. Smith says there are some success stories. She says most people in western Iowa are familiar with the “Green Bean” project that grows specialized soybeans for niche markets. She says that project has expanded into eastern Iowa.
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