Flax growers in Western Canada and North Dakota who have historically sold straw to Schweitzer-Mauduit International (SWM) are now scrambling to find a market for their straw.

The Georgia-based company, which has processing facilities at Winkler and Carman, Manitoba, is planning to cease its flax straw operations by the end of 2021. As a result, multiple sources say SWM is using up existing inventory at its Carman processing mill and is not buying straw from the 2021 flax crop.

According to the company, operations in Winkler and Carman were dedicated to making flax tow for cigarette paper production at SWM’s facility in Spotswood, New Jersey.

However, the Spotswood plant was closed in late 2020 after a “key customer” decided to source its product elsewhere, says a SWM spokesperson in an email to RealAgriculture.

“Although SWM pursued alternative business models that would allow us to continue to operate our Winkler facility, we were unable to find an option that could successfully sustain our operation,” the company says, noting it has owned and operated the Winkler facility since 1985.

In 2010, SWM received $635 thousand in federal and provincial government funding for a $1.12 million expansion project in Manitoba. At the time, the company said it was aiming to diversify and grow demand for flax straw in horse bedding, soil erosion control, biofuel, and as an ingredient in composites and other traditionally petroleum-based products.

With the unplanned loss in demand, it’s possible growers will resort to burning flax straw. Information on Manitoba’s rules and burning program can be found here.

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