Kenaf uses too much water to be peanut alternative

FARMERS everywhere are looking for that elusive alternative crop to make a few dollars where the traditional crops have not.

Kenaf, the tall fibrous industrial crop that can be made into paper, is being touted to Eastern New Mexico farmers as an alternative to cotton and peanuts. A two-variety Kenaf test plot at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center in Clovis, was part of the annual Peanut Field Day in Clovis and Portales recently sponsored by NMSU.

The cousin of cotton and okra, kenaf can grow nine feet or more in height and yield six to seven tons of product per acre, according to Tom Rymsza of Vision Paper, Albuquerque,who is promoting the crop to New Mexico producers.

It's a deep-rooted plant (24 inches) and is grown for its stalk - not leaves. It is harvested after the first killing frost when the leaves have dropped off. It is harvested with a silage chopper and can be moduled in a cotton module maker.

It requires 60 to 90 frost-free days to mature and is a fairly salt tolerant plant. Its fertilizer requirements are half that of corn, according to Rymsza. Much of its cultural practices are similar to cotton, and it is resistant to nematodes.

Rymsza, who wants to open a small pilot kenaf pulp mill in Clovis, is offering growers $50 per ton.

They'd be willing to consider his offer if the crop did not take as much water as it does - two to three acre-feet per season, according to Rymsza. If it rains, it needs less irrigation water.

"Uses too much irrigation water," said Dee Brown, veteran Roosevelt County, N.M.. peanut producer after seeing the test plot. "Maybe there is a possibility it would work dryland, but water has been scarce in recent years. Since 1990 we have had only one year when we had double digit rainfall and that was 1998 when we received 11 inches. Our historical average is 17 inches.

"We do pretty good with peanuts. I doubt they'll get much interest in kenaf from irrigated producers," Brown said.

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