American farmers are promised a new cash crop with an
annual value of several hundred million dollars, all because a machine
has been invented that solves a problem more than 6,000 years old.
It is hemp, a crop that will not compete with other American products.
Instead, it will displace imports of raw material and manufactured products
produced by underpaid coolie and peasant labor and it will provide thousands
of jobs for American workers throughout the land.
The machine that makes this possible is designed for removing the
fiber-bearing cortex from the rest of the stalk, making hemp fiber available
for use without prohibitive amounts of human labor.
Hemp is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength
and durability. It is used to produce more than 5,000 textile products,
ranging from rope to fine laces, and the woody "hurds" remaining after the
fiber has been removed contain more than 77 percent cellulose, which can
be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to
Machines now in service in Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, and other states are
producing fiber at a manufacturing cost of half a cent per pound, and are
finding a profitable market for the rest of the stalk. Machine operators
are making a good profit in competition with coolie-produced foreign fiber,
while paying farmers $15 a ton for hemp as it comes from the field.
From the farmer's point of view, hemp is an easy crop to grow and
will yield from three to six tons per acre on any land that will grow corn,
wheat, or oats. It can be grown in any state of the Union. It has
a short growing season, so that it can be planted after other crops
are in. The long roots penetrate and break the soil to leave it in
perfect condition for next year's crop. The dense shock of leaves,
eight to twelve feet above the ground, chokes out weeds. Two successive
crops are enough to reclaim land that has been abandoned because of
Canadian thistles or quack grass.
Under old methods, hemp was cut and allowed to lie in the fields for weeks
until it "retted" enough so that the fibers could be pulled off by hand.
Retting is simply rotting as a result of dew, rain, and bacterial action.
Machines were developed to separate the fibers mechanically after retting
was complete, but the cost was high, the loss of fiber great, and the
quality of fiber comparatively low.
With the new machine--known as a decorticator--hemp is cut with
a slightly modified grain binder. It is delivered to the machine where an
automatic chain conveyor feeds it to the breaking arms at a rate of two or
three tons per hour. The hurds are broken into fine pieces that drop into
the hopper, from where they are delivered by blower to a baler, or to a
truck or freight car for loose shipment. The fiber comes from the other
end of the machine, ready for baling.
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