The legacy of Scotland’s once-thriving linen trade based on flax grown in Scotland can still be easily found, with retting ponds used in the first stages of treating the fibre still easy to find around the countryside.

Fresh trials of the crop, which was grown successfully in Scotland for centuries, particularly in Fife, Angus and Perthshire, are indicating that it still offers potential as an alternative crop, visitors to last week’s Arable Scotland event heard.

However, manning the event’s demonstration plots, the James Hutton Institute’s Professor Adrian Newton admitted that while encouraging, the current trials had been small-scale – due to difficulties in obtaining suitable seed – and the lack of harvesting machinery which could make the most of the plant fibre.

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He said that in order to maximise the length of the flax fibres for linen production, it was necessary to pull the plant out of the ground, rather than to cut the stem as was the case with most crops.

“With the lack of harvesting machinery in Scotland this has meant that the plots which have been grown have been pulled by hand, a situation which has hindered the growing of large areas of the crop.”

But he said that the demand from the craft weaving sector for locally-sourced natural fibre had blossomed in recent years as demand for synthetic materials made from fossil fuel sources had declined. This meant an increasing interest in the crop and the possibility of expanding the market.

In the same week, machinery dealer, Agricar, announced that it had signed a distribution agreement with Depoortere, a company based on the continent specialising in flax machinery.

Stating that this was the first such agreement for the UK, Agricar said that trials conducted by ESG Natural Fibres had been highly encouraging. “So ESG Natural Fibres have taken the next step and ordered some machines for the season ahead,” said a spokesman.