By Malinda Geisler, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Revised June 2012.
Kenaf is a warm season annual that offers potential as a commercial fiber crop. It is related to cotton, okra and hibiscus and reaches heights ranging from 8 to 20 feet. A native of Africa, the crop is adapted to much of the southern United States and parts of California. USDA does not keep statistics on kenaf. Leaders in world kenaf production are India and China.
Kenaf (Hibiscus canabinus) is planted using a modified row-crop planter or grain drill. It matures in about 150 days. It can be harvested using forage coppers and sugarcane harvesters. Fiber yields range from six to 10 tons per acre annually. 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.
Other kenaf uses include animal forage, animal litter, a fiberglass substitute in molded plastic, a cellulose fiber for composition panels and boards and potting mix. Commercial processing plants exist in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas. Most kenaf production is contract grown.
Alternative Agronomic Crops, ATTRA, NCAT, 2000.
- 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 - A Possible New Crop for Central Florida, University of Florida Extension, reviewed 2006.
- 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.
Links checked September 2013.