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Schweitzer Mauduit facility to close

CANADA (From news reports) -- A Manitoba farmer fears the impending closure of a flax straw-processing facility near Carman may mean a decline in provincial flax acres.

"I'm sure it will decrease the acres," said Jack Hodgson, a delegate on the Manitoba Crop Alliance's flax committee and a Roland-area farmer.

"It's just one more kick against growing flax when there are so many other options," he added.

Schweitzer Mauduit (SWM) has confirmed it is closing its flax-processing facility near Carman at the end of the year.

The facility, which SWM has owned since 1985, harvests and collects flax straw and processes this into flax "tow," which is a raw material for cigarette papers, said a spokesperson for the company in a statement on August 26.

The closure is a result of the late-2020 closure of SWM's Spotswood, New Jersey facility. The Manitoba plant produced flax tow for this operation.

"Although SWM pursued alternative business models that would allow us to continue to operate... we were unable to find an option that could successfully sustain our operation," the spokesperson said.

Rumours that the flax facility would close circulated on Twitter in late August. Hodgson said he called his flax straw buyer who confirmed it was true.

This leaves flax producers with few options for their straw, said Hodgson. The coarse straw doesn't break down well if left in the field and is more of a nuisance to dispose of than anything, he said.

SWM didn't pay much for the straw, but it would get it off the field, said Hodgson. Now, the cattle producers he's spoken to don't really want it. The next best option is to burn it or find someone to bale it into small square bales, he said.

"It's just a pile of extra work," he said. Meanwhile, there are many other viable options to plant.

"Unless another end-user steps up and finds a use for the flax straw, I'm sure that (flax will) slowly work its way out of the Manitoba marketplace, unfortunately," Hodgson said.

"The flax industry appreciates and values the business SWM has provided to farmers through its Canadian operations," said Wayne Thompson, CEO of the Flax Council of Canada in an emailed statement.

"The SWM processing of flax straw provided flax growers another option for their flax straw and additional revenue stream when growing flax," he said.

Thompson said there may be an impact to flax production for farmers who relied on SWM to manage flax straw residue.

"There are not many similar solutions," he said.

As to a rumour that SWM was shuttering its entire Canadian operation, a spokesperson for the company said this was not true.

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