Northern Ireland Growing Demand for Flax

Nature Friendly Farming

Member
NFFN Member
Written by farmer Helen Keys

"Helen Keys and Charlie Mallon, both members of the NFFN, farm 50 acres in Northern Ireland’s Moneymore. The farm was traditionally dairy then livestock, but in the last few years, they have diversified into flax, potatoes, oats and hemp.“


Northern Ireland used to be full of flax fields – ‘the wee blue blossom’ appeared in mid-summer to such an extent that people said it looked like the sky had fallen. The Irish Linen industry was one of the biggest employers and flax was a hugely profitable crop.

Talk to any of the older farmers in Northern Ireland and they will tell you they remember working the flax, especially the smell of the flax dam. Flax was retted in these dams – or ‘lint-holes’ – usually beside a river. This was one of the major issues with the industry, when the water was let away after retting, it had a toxic effect on nearby waterways.

This environmental issue, combined with the rise in cotton and synthetic textiles, was the death knell for the linen industry in Northern Ireland. But with an increasing demand for sustainable textiles and new technologies becoming available, could the blue blossom return?

For last 3 years, we’ve grown flax while working with a growing community of people from all over the world who are interested in flax and linen. We quickly learned flax is an easy crop to grow. We planted seed from The Netherlands, and 100 days later, we had a lovely crop. No need for fertilisers or sprays, plus our bees loved it and we had flocks of linnets arrive.

Although simple to grow, it’s not so easy to harvest. We did it by hand with a lot of help from friends and neighbours and the odd stranger who just wanted to see what we were up to. The tradition was that five men could pull an acre in a day, while we haven’t managed that yet, we’re certainly getting better at it.

The retting is done in an upcycled cheese vat, and afterwards, we draw the water out with a slurry tank and use it as a low-cost fertiliser on the fields – an easy solution that most farms could implement.
 

Hooby Farmer

Member
Location
roe valley
Thats very interesting, one of our fields is called 'the dam field' it had 7 lint dams and when my grandfather moved to our current farm he filled them in. My great grandfather owned a flax mill in Moygashel after making some money in America and returning home. My father would have told me bits and pieces over the years but because he was a child when he died never knew the man most of the information was usually passed down
 

HelenKeys

Member
Mixed Farmer
Thats very interesting, one of our fields is called 'the dam field' it had 7 lint dams and when my grandfather moved to our current farm he filled them in. My great grandfather owned a flax mill in Moygashel after making some money in America and returning home. My father would have told me bits and pieces over the years but because he was a child when he died never knew the man most of the information was usually passed down
Most farms have a lint dam somewhere but 7 in one field is unusual. Sebastian Graham of Mills of NI has done some great work mapping the old mills.
 

Update on the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot

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Update on the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot

Written by Lisa Applin

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In July, we opened the applications window for farmers to join our Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive is 1 of the 3 new environmental land management schemes. It sits alongside the future Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes.

Through the Sustainable Farming Incentive, farmers will be paid for environmentally sustainable actions – ones that are simple to do and do not require previous agri-environment scheme experience.

We are piloting the scheme to...
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