Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kenaf May Ease Pressure on Shrinking Tree Supply Producing Paper from the Crop Costs Less and Uses Less Energy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kenaf May Ease Pressure on Shrinking Tree Supply Producing Paper from the Crop Costs Less and Uses Less Energy

Article excerpt

HERE on the south Texas plains, where neat rows of sugar cane, cotton, and orange trees dominate the landscape, a handful of growers are producing a crop that may help alleviate the increasing demand for wood-based paper products.

Kenaf, a member of the hibiscus family, grows up to 14 feet tall and produces more pulp per acre than pine trees. It could soon be a major crop on southern farms.

"As a renewable resource, kenaf is ideal," says Charles Cook, a geneticist with the United States Department of Agriculture's research facility in Weslaco, Texas.

Mr. Cook says countries around the world are looking for alternatives to wood-based paper because their forests are shrinking.

"In the European countries, Argentina, and Mexico, their available fiber resources aren't there any more," he says. "They don't have the forests they used to. But all of these countries have the opportunity to farm and that's where kenaf can fit in."

Charles Taylor, founder of Kenaf International, based in McAllen, Texas, has been in the kenaf business since 1981. Now harvesting 550 acres of kenaf, he says he plans to grow 1,000 acres of the plant next year.

"We don't expect to replace paper made from wood," Mr. Taylor explains. "But kenaf can take some of the demand pressure off forest fiber resources."

Every year, about 4 billion trees are cut to make paper products. By 2010, worldwide demand for paper is expected to double. Studies have shown that producing paper from kenaf costs far less and uses less energy than paper made from trees. In addition, kenaf paper does not have to be bleached like wood-based paper, thereby reducing the amount of toxic chemicals required.

"Kenaf paper has a lot of properties that are not seen in other papers," Cook says. "It is a bright paper, it stays white longer {than} wood-based paper. …

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