Most Iowans have probably never heard of kenaf but an intrepid group of farmers is trying to grow the tall, fibrous plants into a potential new cash crop. Iowa State University agronomy professor Ken Moore says kenaf holds much promise for growers in the Hawkeye State in a variety of industries. Moore says the long fibers can be used for products like burlap, carpet backing, paper, bedding materials, packing materials, fencing, decking and possibly even vehicle headliners. Kenaf plants grow eight to 12-feet high and just resemble leafy poles. Moore says the plants are commonly grown in many developing countries, but not in the Midwestern U.S. A group of Iowa industries is interested in using kenaf fibers for making products from furniture, panels to build cubicles and ceiling tiles. Moore was part of a delegation of Iowans who recently visited a kenaf farm in Texas. He says test plots of the crop are already being grown in Iowa and it appears it will survive the Iowa climate. He says it grows better in Iowa than they thought it would, although it doesn’t flower and seed, but that’s not important because the portions that produce the long fibers -do- grow here and well. Moore says they’re good yields in Iowa that are similar or even bigger than those grown in Texas. He says it has a yield potential of up to ten tons of dry fiber per acre, per year.
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