Shaken by Covid-19, the flax industry dreams of relocating to France #23


Livry (France) – Shaken by the Covid-19 crisis, the flax industry is dreaming of relocating to France, the world’s leading producer of this fibre, an agricultural nugget that is 80 percent processed in China. “It would be great. It’s a shame though: we produce flax here, it goes to China and comes back here”, says Bertrand Lefèvre, a 27-year-old flax farmer in Parfouru-l’Eclin (Calvados).

Behind him, the machine roars as it pulls up and lays the plants with their bright green and yellow reflections on the ground. Flax for textile use is not cut, but torn out, and must remain on the ground for several weeks before the fibre is extracted in the factory.

“With the crisis, we see that we are dependent on China and others. If we were to relocate, we would be less dependent,” adds this son and grandson of a flax farmer. The Coopérative linière du Nord de Caen, to which he belongs with 250 producers, has 4,000 hectares of flax, compared to 1,350 in 2013. At the national level, the inter-professional organisation has seen a 50 percent increase in production over ten years.

Flax is indeed getting good press: even though it is rarely organic (barely 1 percent of production), this blue-flowered plant is more environmentally friendly than cotton. And from the root to the seed, everything is used (textiles, paper, composite materials, fodder).

But with a virus that first hit Asia, flax farmers were totally deprived of outlets for many months. “It’s starting up again a little bit,” says Marc Vandecandelaere, president of the cooperative. But prices have fallen, “almost by half,” according to some producers. In organic farming, they have remained stable, according to organic hemp and flax.

The blow is hard but flax is only one production among others for farmers and the fall in prices follows a surge. This crop, which is risky because it is very dependent on a clever alternation of rain and sunshine, can be very profitable (from 2,000 to 6,000 euros per hectare compared to 500 to 1,000 for wheat according to Mr. Bertrand). Since Covid, “we’ve come back to much more logical prices,” explains an executive in the sector.