The flax production program of the Union State is designed to revive the fame of “the northern silk” of Belarus and Russia
Since ancient times flax has been one of the most important crops in Belarus and Russia. The fastidious plant was irreplaceable: flax was used to make clothing, medicines and food. Even now, it is the number one raw material for making eco-friendly and organic products. New technologies made flax processing waste-free and cost-effective and considerably expanded the use of this crop. Today it is used in the textile industry, mechanical engineering, in the defense sector, by paper mills and companies manufacturing healthcare products and foodstuffs. This is the reason why Belarus and Russia have decided to revive flax production and upgrade the flax processing industry. Both countries are going to unite their efforts to regain the status of the leading manufacturers of “the northern silk”.
Scale of the Problem
However, this will be quite a challenge. To get a clear picture of the situation in the flax industry in Belarus and Russia, let us have a look at the recent history of flax production. In the first half of the 20th century flax was among the most important crops in the Russian Empire and later in the Soviet Union. Back in the 1940-1960s, some 80-90% of the world’s flax production was concentrated in the Soviet Union.
However, later came a dramatic reduction of flax production. There were 418,000 hectares under this crop in Russia in 1990. However by 2012 flax farming shrank 7.3 times. Only 78 out of 301 processing companies remained afloat, while the number of textile producers dropped 8.3 times. In 1975 there were 67 seed breeding stations, while in 2012 their number went down to 17. Several regions, like Arkhangelsk Oblast, Vladimir Oblast, Moscow Oblast, Kaluga Oblast, Tyumen Oblast and Perm Krai, stopped producing flax altogether.
Several factors are to blame for this situation, said Vladimir Kono- valov, the head of the Agency for Production and Primary Treatment of Flax and Hemp at the Agriculture Ministry of Russia. The biggest problem is poor physical infrastructure of companies involved in flax production and processing.
In the early 2000s Russian regions made several attempts to reverse the situation by subsidizing the flax industry as part of regional programs. The program Flax was among the key initiatives in this field. The program was put forward by the Executive Committee of the Belarus-Russia Union State. “Although only 27% of the planned investments was raised, the program generated an appreciable effect. The support for the industry at the regional level allowed halting the reduction in flax farming,” Vladimir Konovalov said.
Tough competition prompted textile companies to embark on production upgrade. Those who managed to catch up with the changing market needs remained afloat. However, the technical upgrade failed to resolve several issues. In fact, the new equipment was designed to process long-fibred flax, but flax producers failed to provide this type of flax. Flax process- ing companies in Western Europe extract up to 70% of long flax fiber from rotted straw, while domestic companies settled for about 40-50%. The efficiency of flax production in Western countries is 5 to 6 times higher than in Russia. This situation forced domestic textile producers to buy the lacking raw materials in Europe, which further loosened inter-industry ties in Russia.
“Nevertheless, it is quite possible to turn the situation around and make the flax industry selfsufficient,” said Mikhail Kovalyov, Director of the All-Russia Research and Design Institute of Flax Cultivation Mechanization of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences. “To begin with, Russia and Belarus have amassed considerable experience in flax growing and processing and have developed tight collaboration in mechanization of flax production and seed breeding. Our countries have everything they need to work in a closed production cycle: from seeds and soil treatment technologies to marketing and sales. However, some parts of this chain are in dire straits in Russia, which disrupts the entire chain. The programs that were adopted earlier failed to produce a desired effect because of poor financing,” the expert said. In his view, good results hinge on state support for the industry and closer structural ties therein.
Another important thing is the continuity of generations of flax growers. With some crops the production cycle is short (plantingharvesting). Flax, on the contrary,