By Malinda Geisler, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Revised July 2015
Kenaf is a close relative to cotton and okra and is originally from Africa. It is a crop that is easily grown and is high in yield.
Two distinctive fibers are harvested from the stalks. One is a jute-like, long bast fiber from the bark. The bast fiber is used to make burlap, carpet padding and pulp. The second fiber is short, spongy core fiber that resembles balsa wood. It is processed into poultry house bedding, oil-absorbent mats and packing materials.
Kenaf is generally not marketed as a good, but rather sold to manufacturers as an input to create a final good such as rope. The domestic market for kenaf is limited and the crop is grown mostly for a niche market. Commercial processing plants exist in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas.
In the United States, once the soil has warmed o 13°C and there will be no more frosts, kenaf can be planted. In some locations this can be as early as April or May. The crop can grow in many soil tipes, however best yields occur on well-drained sites. Kenaf (Hibiscus canabinus) is planted using a modified row-crop planter or grain drill. Kenaf seeds are planted 1.25 to 2.5cm deep and a plant emerges within 2-4 days. Dense planting limits branching and promotes long fibers in the main stem. The crop matures in about 150 days and can be harvested using forage coppers and sugarcane harvesters. Fiber yields range from six to ten tons per acre annually.
A 2013 production scenario done in Kentucky estimated a total of $293 in costs per acre. Returns were estimated at 7.2 tons of kenaf at $55 per ton for gross revenue of $396 per acre.
Alternative Agronomic Crops, ATTRA, NCAT, 2000.
Kenaf - University of Kentucky, 2014
Kenaf Production: Fiber, Feed, and Seed
- Economic Feasibility of Kenaf Production in Three Tennessee Counties, University of Tennessee, 2007 - This research includes estimated costs and returns for kenaf production.
- Evaluation of Harvesting Time Effects and Cultivars of Kenaf on Papermaking, Bioresources.com, North Carolina State University, 2010.
- Iowa State Scientists Study Alternative Crops for Fuel Production, Iowa State University, 2006.
- Kenaf, Resource Conservation Alliance fact sheet.
- Kenaf, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, updated 2005.
- Kenaf, Interactive European Network for Industrial Crops and their Applications, 2002.
- Kenaf Green Industries - An Israel-based company involved in the cultivation and processing of kenaf for plastic composite and textile applications.
- Kengro Corp., Charleston, Mississippi - A company specializing in bioremediation and absorbent products.
- MSU's Kenaf Research Developed into Products, Mississippi State University, 2012.
- Natural Fiber Composites Slowly Take Root, Composites Technology, 2006 - Using natural fibers such as kenaf for bioplastics have experienced slower growth related in part to slower auto sales.
- Feasibility of adopting kenaf on the eastern shores of Virginia
Links checked July 2015.