Flax-Linen and Hemp Economic Observatory

The Alliance has set up its economic observatory to collect, develop and share reliable data and information on European Flax and Hemp production. Providing decisionmaking tools: an overview of global markets, regulatory monitoring, barometer, weak signal analysis and dedicated economic studies.

Flax Linen Hemp Economic Observatory logo

Flax sowing in the spring began later than usual for our crop. This is due to a rainy start to the spring, which slowed down agricultural work that was completed at the end of May, whereas it is normally done by mid-April. While this discrepancy slightly reduces the plant growth cycle, it will not necessarily affect future yields if the flax emerges quickly and evenly.

Key figures for Flax Fibre production

  • ¾ of the world's production of long fibres (the main product from scutching for the textile industry) is produced in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
  • Flax fibre currently accounts for < 0.5% of the world's textile fibre production
  • Europe is the world's leading producer of fibre flax
  • +133% increase in the area under flax between 2010-2020
  • 150,000 hectares of flax grown in Europe by 2023 (87% of which in France - 131,000 hectares)
  • 140,000 tonnes of long fibres in 2023 (including 122,000 tonnes in France)

Flax production: strong structural growth over the last 10 years

As the figures show, flax production has risen steadily over the last 10 years. Between 2010 and 2020, the area under flax has more than doubled in Europe (France, Belgium and the Netherlands). This strong dynamism can be explained by the fact that the world market's requirements for European textile fibres are constantly increasing. Recent years have seen a revival in the use of linen in fashion, in line with growing consumer concerns about sustainable development.

Agricultural area under European fibre flax

Flax Fibre: 2024 increase in area under cultivation and a market under Pressure

2024 areas

According to the estimates of the Flax-Linen and Hemp Economic Observatory, the growing area of European Flax™ spring flax and winter flax combined will account for at least 180,000 hectares for the 2024 harvest. This represents a large increase compared with 2023 (+20%) and even with the record harvest of 2020 and its 163,000 hectares (+10%).

A lower production of long fibres due to unfavourable weather conditions in 2023

According to a forecast made with European scutchers, the monthly production of European Flax™** is not expected to exceed 10,000 tonnes during the first half of 2024.
For the sake of comparison: during the first two years, not including July and August, when activity ebbs, European scutchers were producing 12,000-16,000 tonnes of European Flax™ long fibres every month. By the end of the first half of 2024, the production of European Flax™ fibres may dip under the threshold of 8,000 tonnes per month. This is due to the fact that flax straw from 2023, which resulted from a low harvest, will account for a clear majority of raw materials for scutching.

Flax production: strong structural momentum over the past decade

We can see from the data that flax production has continuously increased over the past decade. Between 2010 and 2020, the flax cultivation area in Europe (France, Belgium, and Netherlands) more than doubled. This strong momentum can be explained by the continued growth of global market demand for European textile fibres. In recent years we have witnessed a revival of linen in fashion, buoyed by increasing consumer concern about sustainable development.

Flax: 10 years of structural dynamism

Growth in European Flax™ agricultural areas in: France, Belgium and Netherlands from 2009 to 2024

This sharp increase can be explained by the will of this North-Western European sector to meet market demand, which has suffered from four consecutive disappointing harvests that also resulted in a lack of material, and also by the attractiveness of the remuneration for farmers.

To date, yields have not yet been defined in terms of fibre volume and quality
, since the agricultural cycle is still in its early phases. Also, long fibre yields from different harvests have varied as much as by a factor of three over the past decade, depending on the weather during the one hundred day cycle of the flax plant, from sowing to harvest, and during retting.

It will be possible to provide an approximate assesment of the situation in the next communication from the Flax-Linen and Hemp Economic Observatory in July 2024.

Changes in flax prices

Imbalance between supply and demand means prices under pressure

As for prices of European Flax™ long fibers on the market, the curve continued to increase in the first quarter in the context of an imbalance in supply/demand.
In March, the average price across all qualities and all production regions of European FlaxTM fibre produced by European scutchers (France, Belgium, Netherlands) reached €9.08/kg, representing a year-on-year increase of 55%.
This price is the average after scutching, not including transportation or any future intermediaries, and covers all qualities and all production regions in Northwestern Europe.


Facing the challenge of satisfying supply, the European sector is continuing its significant R&D efforts by working with technical agricultural institues: Arvalis in France and Inagro in Belgium. Arvalis conducted R&D programs in France focusing on genomic research, physiological studies of flax fibre and digital phenotyping tools.

The fibre flax production value chain

The Flax-Linen Economic Observatory lists nine countries in the world that produce long flax fibres, and three-quarters of the world’s long flax fibre production originates in the European Union. A dozen countries are home to 100% flax spinning mills, with China occupying the top spot(1). Whereas China is a key player on the flax market and one of the main partners of European producers, today Europe has a complete value chain covering all sectors in the industry, from farming to scutching, weaving, hackling, and spinning.

Since 2020, three new spinning mills have opened in France. One more project is under development in the country in addition to two more in Portugal and one in Belgium(1). European Flax™ is positioning itself in premium markets. Many weavers in Europe are helping European flax perform well in end markets. This is the case for historical companies with strong local roots, e.g. in the Kortrijk region in Belgium, in Hauts-de-France, and in Northern Italy. Thus, Europe has multiple players with a strong capacity for innovation working towards diversification. Finally, the European Flax™ and Masters of Linen™ certifications of the Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp provide a guarantee of traceability, which offers a real advantage in the flax market.

Observations

We can see that the supply of linen on the market is not linear. There are three factors causing changes to the supply of this textile fibre to the market. First of all, industrial potential, which has shown a consistent trend towards further development. Next, the number of hectares, which has been on an upward trajectory, but which could be impacted by economic and social circumstances. Finally, there is a variable factor that must be taken into account which is the crop yield of each harvest, which is inherent to natural plant fibres and is independent of the will of the stakeholders in the sector.

Nonetheless, the European flax industry is ready to face rising demand in the global market. Several European flax producers have launched modernisation projects. Today, almost 75% of long flax fibres are European Flax certified, which ensures their traceability(1). Financial investments made by stakeholders in the sector are evidence of structural confidence. As far as potential growth is concerned, organic flax is worth mentioning, even though it currently represents less than 1% of surfaces in 2023 in France.

3 signs of structural confidence and of this agro-industrial sector’s willingness to respond to the end market were observed:

  1. An upward trend in area under cultivation which began 15 years and will continue in 2024.
  2. Ongoing investments in the modernisation of agricultural and industrial tools in Northwestern Europe.
  3. Strong growth in “winter flax.” This flax, sowed in late autumn, is harvested about one month earlier than traditional spring flax, and its growth cycle is longer, which makes it more resistant to very intense weather events - droughts, extreme rain, storms, etc. - that have been observed in the spring in recent years. Although winter flax may have experienced an extreme cold spell this year, the consequences of which have yet to be measured, these diversification efforts appear quite consistent.

On price, pressures on supply will continue at least until autumn 2024, which is when flax straw from the coming harvest will begin to be scutched. In the meantime, the pressure on flax prices is expected to continue in a context of increasing global demand for natural fibres.

In anticipation of increasingly frequent adverse weather events, the industry is focusing its R&D efforts on devising an agricultural action plan and is continuing to build its capacity to meet market demand for certified natural fibres.

*Scutching is the process whereby the components of flax straw are separated out: short fibres, long fibres, shives, seeds, through mechanical crushing and threshing. This term also refers to the industrial facility where this operation is conducted.
**Fibre used by Northwestern European scutchers is European FlaxTM certified, guaranteeing a plant fibre from agriculture that is eco-friendly, irrigation-free barring exceptional circumstances, and GMO-free.

Key figures for Hemp Fibre production

  • Europe is the world's 2nd largest producer of Hemp for all uses
    with 55,000 ha of hemp for all uses cultivated in 2020
    12 countries in the EU growing textile Hemp in 2021
  • France is number 1 in Europe with 21,700 ha of hemp for all-purpose, including approximatively 10% for textile hempin 2022.
  • China is the world's No. 1 global Hemp producer, with 65,000 ha of Hemp for all uses
    including 12,000 ha of textile hemp in 2021

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