“The trouble with this country,” an old farmer groused to me recently, “is that nobody raises flax anymore.”    
    I asked him to elaborate, and he was happy to oblige.
    “It’s as if we farmers have lost our collective imaginations. All you see out in the country nowadays is corn and beans, corn and beans. Why can’t folks raise flax and pretty things up?”    
    I couldn’t disagree. I’ve always had a soft spot for flax, one of the most stunning crops known to man.    
    It’s unsettling when you first catch sight of a field of blooming flax. A patch of ground that was an emerald carpet the day before has turned a glorious sky-blue. It’s as if a lake had suddenly formed out in the middle of nowhere, a body of water that, incredibly, runs up and over the tops of hills.    
    The spring when I was 14, Dad proposed a deal: In exchange for my labor during the coming summer, I could have an 8-acre field to farm. I jumped at the offer. When asked what I wanted to plant, I answered in an instant. Flax.    
    I would like to say this decision was reached after a comprehensive study of the markets. I would like to say this choice was based on a carefully calculated analysis.    
    I would like to say those things, but they wouldn’t be true. I chose flax simply because it looks pretty when it’s in full bloom.    
    I had to foot the bill for some of the expenses, including the seed. When flax planting time arrived, I drove to our local grain elevator and purchased eight bushels of seed flax, exactly enough to plant my 8-acre patch. The seed flax set me back $7 per bushel.    
    As I loaded the bags of seed, the elevator manager remarked I could lock in a harvest delivery price of $4.35 per bushel. I would like to say that after considering all possible market contingencies, I told him I would take my chances, but that wouldn’t be true. I simply didn’t like the term “lock in.” And besides, I was too busy imagining how beautiful my field of flax would be.    
    When the flax had grown to ankle high, I noticed it was infested with an abundance of weeds. The weeds would mar my flax’s beauty and reduce its yield.    
    I consulted the elevator manager, who advised me to apply a herbicide. After purchasing 8 acres worth of the recommended chemical, I made the application. I followed the label’s directions to the letter.    
    Or at least I thought I had. When I went to check on the flax the next day, it was dying. Every single plant was curled into a freakishly unnatural pose, mirroring that of the target weeds.    
    My first farming venture was a total bust. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the field for several days. I finally had to, thinking I should rip it up and plant a fast-maturing crop and salvage something from the summer.    
    A field of flawless, weed-free flax stretched out before me like a luxurious emerald carpet. I would have hugged it if it were possible to get my arms around 8 acres.    
    Two weeks later, I nearly broke my face due to excessive grinning as I strolled through an 8-acre lake that ran up and over the hill. A lake comprised of jillions of tiny sky-blue flowers.    
    My flax yielded 15 bushels per acre. By harvest time, the price of flax had rocketed to $7.10 per bushel. I would like to say in all truthfulness this was due to nothing but dumb luck.    
    It took about an acre’s worth of flax to cover my expenses. But additional profits were there for the taking in the form of the flax straw.    
    We baled the flax straw and sold it at our local elevator. It was difficult to believe this scratchy, dusty, brown, stick-like substance would eventually become linen, that flax can be made into comfy slacks.
    The popularity of flax could be seen at the elevator’s straw stack, which was wider than our barn and just as high and stretched for a good quarter of a mile.    
    That summer was profitable for me. I certainly made more than if Dad had paid me a wage.    
    And that was too bad, because I got the impression farming was like having a license to print money. I spent the next several decades trying to duplicate that summer, chasing profits that were as mirage-like as a sky-blue lake that runs up and over the tops of hills.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to e-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.