University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 1/1995
Drought-tolerant kenaf could be crop of future on Delaware farms

     One of the Allen family's most interesting ties to the
University is its work with the College of Agricultural Sciences
in testing uses for kenaf-a plant new to Delaware and thought by
many to be the answer to the state's need for an alternative
     The Allens are currently testing a new brand of animal
litter made from kenaf in some of their broiler houses.
     Preliminary results of the litter substitute look favorable,
Charles Allen says.
     "Kenaf can fill that blank space in the growing season," he
says. "We'll have more facts and figures to go by in early 1996,
but so far it looks like it's going to be good for litter. It's a
little expensive right now, but once we get out of the
experimental stage and into more production, it could be a go."
     Kenaf is related to cotton and okra. It grows to the height
of bamboo and has distinctive five-lobed leaves. It is virtually
drought-proof and has no critical period when it must receive
rain. When water is scarce, it simply stops growing until water
is available again. It grows on the entire range of soils found
in Delaware.
     An annual plant, kenaf is harvested for its cork-like inner
core and fibrous outer bark. It's the core that is used for
animal bedding. The fiber can be used as the basis for paper pulp
or woven into carpet backing. It also is being researched for use
as a clothing fiber.
     One of the biggest challenges to establishing kenaf as a
viable crop is developing a consistent market for the paper pulp
and animal bedding it can produce, says Don Tilmon, an economist
in the College of Agricultural Sciences who is studying the
economic feasibility of growing kenaf in the Mid-Atlantic.
     Toward that end, the state's Department of Agriculture and
University Cooperative Extension have helped form First Farm
Fibers Corp. to promote kenaf production and markets. The
corporation has contracted with Curtis Paper Mill in Newark to
produce paper-business cards and letterhead-made from kenaf.
     Because kenaf grows quickly and is a renewable resource,
Tilmon is especially hopeful that it will appeal to paper
manufacturers who are facing rising paper costs and concern over
tree use. With 6,000 broiler houses in the Delmarva region, a
market for animal bedding seems assured.
                                 -Claire McCabe, Delaware '85