One day in the not-too-distant future your morning newspaper may be made from kenaf. Your tires may come from guayule. And you may eat cereal made from amaranth. These crops, along with crambe, pigeon pea, jojoba, and about 20 others, are all being researched by Soil and Land Use Technology Inc. (SaLUT), a Columbia, Md., research and development firm.
The names may sound funny, but the reasons for experimenting with these crops are serious. Arthur A. Theisen, executive officer of SaLUT, says that crop diversification, the development of alternatives and supplements to wheat, corn, barley, soybeans, and the other widely used domestic plant species, is of urgent importance. Fewer than 20 plant species are cultivated today as food and fiber crops, and the nation's diet consists of products made from only a few grains. The danger of crop failure is heightened because of the susceptibility of one-crop farms to disease and insect infestations, and the lack of agricultural diversity puts the United States at the mercy of other countries for imports.
Five years ago, SaLUT was a fledgling firm with $80,000 in annual sales and only four employees, two of whom were executive officers. Today it is a $1 million a year enterprise with 23 employees. It plans to accomplish its mission, shortening the crop introduction process, with what it refers to as the "production-marketing-consumption (PMC)" system, an elaborate scheme for evaluating everything relevant to crop development, including cost, production, processing, and marketing.
This year, SaLUT landed a $130,000 contract from the American Newspaper Association to explore the feasibility of adopting kenaf as a supplement to wood pulp in the manufacture of newsprint. "If the price is attractive to the mill owner, he can supplement 25% or more of his pulp needs with kenaf," says Theisen. "But he'll do that only if he can deliver a competitive product to the publisher."
So far, six publishers have explored the use of kenaf. The Wall Street Journal, Nashville Banner, Miami Herald, the Yuma Daily Sun, Pine Bluff Commercial, and the Saint Augustine Record published all or part of their November 5, 1979, editions using newsprint made with kenaf.