Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Raising Canes

At first glance, this looks like a nice story about a pulp mill trying to make good use of a nasty invasive plant. Unfortunately, it turns out that Samoa Pacific Cellulose (SPC), which started shipping giant reed (giant cane, Arundo donax) after wood chips and demand for them both became scarce, can't make a decent profit from buying the grass that's collected in small batches from infested sites across the country. The company's idea is to farm the stuff, planting 5000 acres of it in Central Valley, California. Luckily for this part of California, giant reed doesn't seem to grow very well there (for now), and though this is frustrating for SPC, it does mean that the chance of the species becoming invasive there is lessened. Still, there is concern about the potential for the species to spread to wetlands from the site where it will be planted or during transport. SPC is marketing the pulp under the trade name "Samoa cane," which they insist is proprietary. The grass yields short fibers that can be used for products like tissue paper, and because the pulp is wood-free, it may command a higher price in U.S. markets as well as overseas.

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