James Wilson, USDA Secretary
Fiber Investigations — Hemp & Flax
Many plant fibers and many questions pertaining to fiber production have been investigated during the past year, but attention has been directed especially to hemp and flax, which, aside from cotton, are regarded as the most promising fiber-producing plants for this country.
The preliminary experiments in the cultivation of hemp in Wisconsin in 1908, in cooperation with the state experiment station, gave very encouraging results not only in the destruction of Canada thistle and quack grass but also in the production of fiber. In spite of adverse weather conditions for retting, more than 9,000 pounds of fiber were obtained from 6 acres. This average yield of a little more than 1,500 pounds per acre compares very favorably with the average of 1,000 pounds per acre on the best farms of Kentucky. The hemp was dew retted on the land where it grew, as is the common practice in this country, returning to the soil most of the fertilizing elements taken up in its growth.
Experiments have been continued in Wisconsin in 1909. The severe drought in summer prevented the full development of the hemp, but it has given good results in killing Canada thistle and quack grass. Improved methods used in harvesting these experimental fields this year will reduce very materially the cost of handling the crop.
Machine brakes for preparing hemp fiber are replacing the slow hand brakes, and in some instances, at least, they are doing not only more work but much better work. The satisfactory results with American hemp binder twine, which has been placed on the market during the last two years, give promise of an extensive market for fiber of medium grades suitable for this purpose.
Flax cultivated for the production of fiber in this country is grown from seed imported from Belgium, Holland, or Russia. Seed, as well as fiber, is obtained from the crop, but without selection the seed has deteriorated so that it does not produce good crops after the second or third generation. Improved varieties of flax for seed production have been developed by careful selection of the experiment stations in Minnesota and North Dakota, but there has been little demand in those States for flax grown primarily for fiber with seed as a by-product. Work has now been undertaken by this Department with a view to the development of improved American varieties of fiber types of flax, and the initial selections have been made in the fiber-flax fields of eastern Michigan.
The introduction of a successful flax-pulling machine and new methods for preparing the fiber more cheaply than heretofore give added importance to this work at the present time. It is hoped that with the improvements in the production of hemp and flax in this country these fibers may win back some of the uses demanding strength and durability which have been usurped in recent years by imported fibers of inferior quality.