French Farmers May Halve the Area They Devote to Flax Fiber as Demand for Linen Drops
Wed, April 21, 2021

French Farmers May Halve the Area They Devote to Flax Fiber as Demand for Linen Drops



French farmers may cut by half their flax fiber area next year as the industry adjusts to the drop in linen demand due to Covid-19 pandemic, reports Reuters.


France, the largest grower of flax fiber in the world

France is the largest grower of flax fiber in the world. It experienced a decade of growth for the crop, which is used to make linen. Flax is soft, flexible, and lustrous and the bundles of fiber have the appearance of blond hair. It is stronger than cotton fiber but less elastic. France is also a part of the northwest European belt that comprises the Netherlands and Belgium, which account for more than 80% of the global supply of flax fiber.

French farming body APCA’s president and farmer Sebastien Windsor said in a video conference that growers of flax fiber in France have been advised to reduce by half their flax fiber area next year to absorb the surplus.



A drop in the demand for linen

Le Comité Interprofessionnel de la Production Agricole du Lin (CIPALIN), which is the interprofessional committee for agricultural flax production representing unions in the production and processing industries, shared that there has been a collapse in the demand of linen as factories and shops were closed as part of the safety measures to curb Covid-19. This means that two-thirds of the country’s flax fiber crop harvested last year have yet to be processed.



CIPALIN projects that French growers may have to sow two to three times less flax fiber crop in 2021 to control the supply that may last until 2022. However, by doing so, it could cancel the area growth that France has seen in the past 10 years. French producers have been exporting most of the fiber to China for spinning. Flax fiber spinning enables the yarn to be produced in outstanding quality and fineness. It cleans the yarn of all impurities and then it is wound on a bobbin that is suitable for further processing.

Last year, French farmers planted around 120,000 hectares of flax and were planning to expand their area further this year although this year’s data is not yet available. Windsor added that spring drought that dried the northern French plains may likewise play a role in limiting the supply by reducing the harvest yields. He said that it may help them come out of the crisis a bit more quickly.


Flax fiber production

In a study, which appeared in Research Gate, author Marta Preisner from the Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences and her team explained that the major flax producer in Europe, where approximately 77% of flax fiber is generated. Next in line are China and the USA but the loss of government subsidies for flax growing in the state of Oregon lead to the eclipse of flax fiber in the USA. Meanwhile, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the European Union boosted flax cultivation in Europe. The purpose of the CAP is to ensure the large subsidies for agriculture.

Citing the data from the Food and Agriculture Organization, Preisner and colleagues noted that France’s fiber crop reached 52,400 tons in 2011 and became the worldwide leader in the production of flax fiber. The European country benefits most from the CAP subsidies, which is why it earned its position as the market leader.

Since 1970, it has been the major flax fiber producer. It was able to produce 40,343 flax fiber in that year. It was also able to produce 77,000 tons of flax fiber in 1990 and 75,000 tons in 2000.



Impact of Covid-19 on a global fabric market

As demand for textile dropped due to the pandemic, international market data provider Research and Markets also recently published that the global fabrics market is expected to fall from $189.5 billion last year to $182.1 billion in 2020 at the compound annual growth rate of -3.9%. The decline is largely due to the economic slowdown in different countries due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the measures implemented by governments to contain it. The market is forecast to recover and grow at 7% CAGR from 2021 and will reach $218.8 billion in 2023.

The Asia Pacific was the largest region in the global fabrics market in 2019. It accounted for 53% of the market last year followed by Western Union (13%). Africa was the smallest region in the global fabrics market.

In 2017, all types of textile production in France also showed growth. The largest percentage change was seen in the finishing category at 14.8%, followed by the preparation of textile fibers and spinning (6.6%), manufacturing of artificial or synthetic fibers (2%), and weaving (0.4%). The industry averaged a 1.4% growth overall, based on the statistics presented by database company Statista.



Linen ban in restaurants

Despite the slow reopening of restaurants in some countries, the use of table linens may be banned, which can impact the textile industry. In Kentucky, US, for instance, Governor Andy Beshear has considered it “incredibly important” to ban the use of tablecloth in restaurants as diners may pick up the virus that causes Covid-19 from the previous patron who touched the same cloth. The governor said that he was open to suggestions about the linen ban.

For now, the state has asked restaurants to replace cloth napkins and tablecloths with disposables. The Textile Rental Services Association’s (TRSA) president Joe Ricci responded. “It’s wasteful,” he said. The TRSA lobbies on behalf of companies that supply professionally laundered linens.



No other state has called for a linen ban in restaurants at this time and it remains unclear whether restauranteurs in Kentucky will adhere to the ban.

John Varanese, the owner of his namesake restaurant, believes the ban is not quite right since the used linens are replaced after each guest leaves. Then, the linens are sent to be washed at the third-party plant that also serves medical facilities and hospitals. “If their product can be safe enough to be put in there, I don’t know why it’s not safe enough to put in restaurants,” Varanese said via USA Today.

As the flax fiber crop will soon be processed in France, factories will still have to ensure social distancing. Yet, this could be challenging since many factories have an operational structure that requires a level of proximity among machinery line.