A replicated field plot experiment was carried out in Northern Ireland in 1996 with flax, cv Ariane, and linseed, cv Flanders, each grown at seed rates of 500, 1000 and 1500 seeds/m2, in which a comparison was made between retting of the standing crop, following desiccation by the trimesium salt of glyphosate (Touchdown, Zeneca Ltd.), and water or dew retting of the pulled crop. Application at 4 litres/ha on 9 August, 33 days after the mid-point of flowering (MPF), achieved both desiccation and partial retting of the crop within 14 days. Over 16% clean long fibre was extracted by scutching the stand-retted flax straw, yielding 800 kg/ha fibre, while water retting achieved 20% extraction and 980 kg/ha yield and dew retting 8·5% and 420 kg/ha respectively. The dew retting was uneven, resulting in high losses during fibre extraction, while water retting for 7 days at 25 °C did not achieve complete retting resulting in a high content of woody fragments in the fibre. Fibre yields increased by almost 50% with the high v. low seed rate. Linseed was less well retted than flax and contained higher levels of impurity in the extracted long fibre which, after retting, yielded 120 to 310 kg/ha at extraction rates of 2·9% to 7·5%.
In a second experiment in 1998 flax cvs. Viola and Evelyn were treated with the timesium salt of glyphosate at rates of 2, 4 or 6 litres/ha 10, 20, 30 or 40 days after MPF on 5 July. Viola desiccated satisfactorily at all spray dates with 4 and 6 litres/ha glyphosate. The 20-day treatment desiccated more slowly than the 30-day and the 2 litres/ha rate did not achieve complete desiccation, but the trimesium salt of glyphosate achieved better desiccation at this timing than that found in earlier studies with the original form of glyphosate. Evelyn desiccated more slowly and less evenly than Viola particularly at the 20-day and 40-day timings. Spraying at MPF+10 days interrupted early development of the seed and fibre significantly reducing yields. Due to slower desiccation the 20-day timing was no better than the 30-day, which was well retted by harvest 44 days after spraying, and gave the highest yield of clean long fibre. The spraying 40 days after MPF was considered too late in the season to be of practical use. It was concluded that retting of standing flax following desiccation with the trimesium salt of glyphosate was more effective than with the earlier formulation and that retting of the standing crop could achieve equivalent or better retting with similar fibre yields to traditional retting methods. The optimum spray timing was found to be about 30 days after MPF with 4 or 6 litres/ha, the lower rate being adequate for glyphosate responsive varieties such as Viola.