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Flax seed oil demand grows

Posted on September 7, 2000

Canterbury, New Zealand — Organic farmer David Musgrave has a winner on his hands with flax seed oil, but he can’t get enough farmers to grow the seed.

Photo: Howard Keene, Geraldine farmer David Musgrave cannot get enough organic seed.

From doing everything himself five years ago, he now employs nine full-time people and three or four part-timers in oil production on the family farm at Waihi Bush near Geraldine. About 30,000 litres were produced last year.

Flax seed oil does not come from New Zealand flax as some people think, but from linen flax which produces linseed oil.

“Only the cricket playing nations call it linseed oil, the rest call it flax seed oil,” he says.

But the high-grade oil produced here is far removed from the stuff used to season willow. It tastes good, and is high in blood cholesterol reducing Omega 3 fatty acids. The oil is also claimed to be beneficial for other conditions.

Mr Musgrave started producing flax seed oil after his son’s long standing eczema cleared up soon after he started taking Canadian flax seed oil.

He had returned to the 100ha family farm about 15 years ago, and he now farms in partnership with two sons. The property had been leased out after his father died.

During the time he was away he trained as a pasture agronomist and worked for MAF Research for 13 years. Following that he was a plant breeder with Dalgetys in Timaru.

The move towards organics happened while he was at Dalgetys.

“I was working at proposals for Dalgetys getting into organic grain production just before Wrightsons took over,” he says.

Of the four plant breeders at Dalgetys at the time, three are now involved in organics, while the other is involved in gene technology.

“I could see the market potential for organics. Like most growers I started from an economic point of view, but quickly came to realise when I became involved that the (farming) system was right.”

Kids can play in the orchard

He says the kiwifruit industry was forced into organics as a last ditch survival effort. “But after two or three years they are saying ‘it’s right, why weren’t we doing it years ago. The kids can go and play in the orchard now’.”

In recent years Mr Musgrave has been a consultant to conventional farmers and organic farmers, but is now focusing more and more on helping growers to convert to organics.

But he cannot get enough linseed to satisfy the organic oil production. Every spring he does the rounds of growers in Canterbury to “twist a few arms.” Last year, four new growers came on board, but so far this year it has only been two or three.

“Most of the increase in area is coming from growers on board who are getting more confidence with the crop,” he says.

“Last year we had 25 people growing for us from the North Island to North Otago. This year we are likely to have someone from Southland, but it’s mostly from Canterbury.”

He says the demand for flax seed oil has gone up nationally without any marketing at all.

When they have surplus, Waihi Bush have exported to Australia, and for the past year they have been exporting to Malaysia.

Good price for conversion grade oil

Mr Musgrave says an attraction for growers is that he has been able to find a market for conversion grade oil, which pays a premium. A farm has conversion status during the three years after it has registered to become organic, but is not certified.

He says growers are paid $700 a tonne for the first year, $900 for the next two years, and $1000 a tonne when they have Bio-Gro or Certenz certification.

The top grower produced 3.2 tonnes a hectare last year. He says linseed is a low-cost crop to grow. Seed costs $35 to $40 a hectare, and then growers only have cultivation and harvesting costs.

Ironically, harvesting linseed grown at Waihi Bush has been problematic. Rainfall is high, and the large number of birds from the 15ha bush on the property give the ripening seed a hard time.

Mr Musgrave believes the flax seed oil, produced in the old stable on the property, is probably the best in the world.

Canterbury growing conditions with hot days and cool nights are particularly good for oils, and he cites Canterbury produced borage and evening primrose oils as internationally top quality.

“The Canadians reject about one-third of their crop just because it doesn’t taste good. We haven’t had to reject any yet.”

Mr Musgrave, who is vice-chairman of the New Zealand Industrial Hemp Association, wants to trial industrial hemp seed oil production when approval is granted for the crop to be grown in New Zealand.

“There’s a demand waiting for a crop to be grown.”

He says hemp oil has essential fatty acids that flax seed oil does not have, and its production would be complementary to flax seed oil.

Copyright © 2000, The Press. All rights reserved.