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Black Sea region expected to produce more flax

The crop is faring better than others in Russia's drought-hit regions, and acreage is anticipated to be higher than last year.
Flax acreage is expected to be up in Russia, although there are no official numbers yet, said Sergey Pluzhnikov, head of the pulses desk with DM Agro Trade and founder of Russian Pulses Analytics.

SASKATOON — Black Sea flax growers are hoping for a rebound year.

Acreage is expected to be up in Russia, although there are no official numbers yet, said Sergey Pluzhnikov, head of the pulses desk with DM Agro Trade and founder of Russian Pulses Analytics.

Russian farmers planted 3.46 million acres of the oilseed last year, which was down from the 2022 high of 5.19 million acres due to lacklustre prices.

Acres have nearly tripled over the past 10 years due to “steady interest” in the crop.

Farmers produced 1.15 million tonnes of the crop last year, according to official government statistics.

Canada produced a paltry 273,000 tonnes by comparison.

Russian flax is primarily grown in the Altai Republic, the Rostov oblast, the Omsk oblast, the Kurgan oblast and the Stavropol Territory.

Altai is the main producer and is also an area of unstable weather, so that is the region that needs to be monitored closely.

“So far, as of the end of May, everything is going well for Altai,” Pluzhnikov said in a text message.

Southern Russia has been in the news due to dry conditions affecting the country’s winter wheat crop.

SovEcon recently dropped its Russian wheat production number by four million tonnes, while IKAR reduced its by five million tonnes.

However, flax is a spring crop and appears to be faring better.

“In the south of Russia, rains have recently passed, affecting the Stavropol Territory and the Rostov region, which inspires optimism to farmers,” said Pluzhnikov.

“But they prefer to talk about the harvest after harvesting rather than when it is in the fields.”

Growers in Kazakhstan had a miserable crop last year. Official statistics suggest they harvested 360,000 tonnes of the crop compared to 850,000 tonnes in 2022.

“Traders say that against the background of last year’s prices, we can expect an increase in the acreage under flax,” said Pluzhnikov.

However, he added that time will tell whether enough high-quality seed was available after last year’s disaster.

He said Russia’s supply-demand balance sheet has clearly shifted toward a focus on demand.

“The market is actively requesting volumes from Russia, but there are not enough volumes for sale, which pushes prices up,” said Pluzhnikov.

“China plays a very important role in purchases from the Russian Federation, which allows us to count on an increase in supplies because the price and quality of flax is very competitive.”

The European Commission has proposed increasing duties on imports of cereals, oilseeds and derived products from Russia and Belarus.

Tariffs would increase to either 95 euros per tonne, or to an ad valorem duty of 50 per cent. That would be enough to discourage trade, creating a market opportunity for Canadian flax growers.

Statistics Canada is forecasting that Canadian farmers will plant 511,000 acres of flax, a 16 per cent decline from the previous year.

Dale Leftwich, policy manager for SaskCanola and SaskFlax, said it is difficult to know if that estimate is accurate.

However, he does know that the crop is off to a better start than in previous years.

“We have been getting some fairly widespread rains,” he said.

However, subsoil moisture is still a lingering concern.

“Last year things started off not too badly, but we really ran out of moisture in the summer and crops went backwards,” said Leftwich.

Agriculture Canada is forecasting a 260,000-tonne flax crop, which would be smaller than last year’s 273,000 tonnes.

“We’re cautiously optimistic (that) if we get rain in certain areas that production will be better than it has been,” said Leftwich.

“We just hope that these rains keep coming and that we get a half-decent crop for the first time in a few years.”

An estimated 56 per cent of Saskatchewan’s crops were planted as of May 20, which is behind the five-year average of 76 percent, according to Saskatchewan Agriculture.

“But that’s not the worst thing in the world if we’re getting some moisture,” said Leftwich.

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