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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on hydroponic suppliers and consultants?


Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for resources on commercial scale hydroponic suppliers and consultants.

Currently there are not many large-scale organic hydroponic greenhouse operations, which means that this might be a good niche for you, but it also means that you may need to apply some ingenuity to develop your business plan and operation.

General information about organic hydroponic production:

The power point presentation by Dr. Mary Peet from North Carolina State University overviews some organic substitutions for nutrient and pest management in hydroponic systems. Also the publication titled “Organic Hydroponics” discusses, mainly, different types of nutrient solution options for an organic hydroponic operation. The link to both of these publications is listed below under “Further Resources,” however, the “Organic Hydroponics” article is from Growing Edge magazine, and they charge $5.00 for obtaining this publication. I have also listed an additional link to a study the Mary Peet did on maintaining nutrient balances in organic soluble fertilizers.

Consultants and Suppliers:
In most circumstances, larger scale commercial greenhouse suppliers have technical staff that consult you on set-up and design of your greenhouse facility. I have listed greenhouse suppliers, as well as companies that have categorized themselves as hydroponic consultants.

They provide both consulting and supplies. They offer supplies and consulting for large scale hydroponic oprations. Colorado has several large-scale hydroponic operations in the state.
P.O. Box 25845
Colorado Springs, CO 80936-5845

American Hydro
They are commercial suppliers of hydroponic greenhouses and equipment with limited consulting.

AGRO Dynamics
“Agro Dynamics is focused on supplying innovative, state-of-the-art and high quality products.” They provide both consulting and greenhouse and hydroponic supplies.
204 Airline Drive ; Suite 900
Coppell, TX 75019
Tel: (+) 800 872-2476
Fax: (+) 972 829-8039
English/ Spanish e-mail:

Crop King consults, provides workshops, and sells commercial-scale hydroponic systems. Below is a link to a price list of their gutter connected greenhouses. These are most commonly used in large scale commercial operations.
Below is a link to training opportunities:

Further Resources:

Landers, Melvin. 2001. Organic Hydroponics. Growing Edge. May/ June 2001.
This is a back issue that Growing Edge is currently charging $5.00 for.

Peet, Mary. (no date). Organic Hydroponics. North Carolina State University. Power Point Presentation.

Maintaining Nutrient Balances in Systems Utilizing Soluble Organic Fertilizers
Janet Miles and Mary Peet, NCSU OFRF Project Report, June 2002.



Permalink How can I make and store loose hay?


Answer: Here is some information on making and storing loose hay.

Principles of hay management

Cut hay while the grass is vegetative for highest quality. Allow the hay to field dry in windrows, and turn the windrows with a rake if necessary to enhance drying. Try to minimize the amount of hay handling in the field. As the hay dries, it is more susceptible to leaf shatter and a subsequent decline in forage quality.

Store the hay on gravel, rock, or a similar surface that will encourage drainage and minimize standing water. Remember to keep stored hay dry, as rain will leach nutrients away and lower forage quality. Hay stored outside will lose as much as 25 percent of its nutrients due to weathering. Hay stored inside will lose far less (around 5 percent of dry matter). If a loose stack is stored outside, place it on gravel, rock, or on poles to keep it off the ground (hay will wick up water and forage quality will decline). Cover the stack with a tarp and weigh down with poles, tires, etc.


Some of the equipment you will need for making and storing loose hay includes a sickle bar mower or scythe (for hand applications) and a buck rake for gathering loose hay from the field. The buck rake could be attached to the front of a truck or tractor. Some buck rake applications are raised and lowered hydraulically. Also of necessity is a hay fork for stacking hay. The hay fork could be as small as a hand fork to manually construct stacks, or incorporated into a block and tackle to lift heavier loads. Hay forks were commonly used on farms with barn-loft hay mows. For larger operations, a hay grapple might be appropriate. This hydraulically-operated device is usually attached to a front-end loader on a tractor. The hay grapple is used for picking up loose hay for feeding of livestock.

Stacking hay

Loose hay is often stacked in the field, and is called stooks or shocks. These are complex constructions designed to shed water and allow for compression of hay as moisture content declines. Other methods for storing loose hay are hay mows (hand-stacked in barn lofts) and beaverslides. Beaverslides are still used by many ranches in western Montana. Hay is cut and raked into windrows with horses or modern equipment, then transported to the beaverslide with buckrakes fitted to tractors, or more commonly, to a small truck chassis. The beaverslide, operated by pulleys, picks up the loose hay and flips it into a large stack. After stack construction, the beaverslide is disassembled and the stack is fenced off from cattle and elk, to be fed later in the winter. For more information on stacking loose hay, including beaverslides, see the Resources below.

The information in the Resources section is from the perspective of haying with horsedrawn equipment. The methods explained in these publications can easily be adapted to small-scale machines or even hand harvest.


Scythe Network. 2005. Loose Ways of Making Leafy Loose Hay. New Brunswick, Canada.

Although not specifically about the use of scythes, the principles of the follow-up steps in handling the cut forage and curing it—so that the resulting hay is nutritious and can be safely stored—are the same. Many of the hints are in fact applicable to baled hay as well, though this feature is obviously written for those who store their hay loose, whether they use a scythe or a horsedrawn sicklebar mower. (from the Abstract)

Ernst, Lisa and Alexandra Swaney. The Beaverslide: Homegrown Haying Technology. Montana Arts Council.

Miller, Lynn. Haying With Horses. Sisters, OR: Small Farmer’s Journal.
368 pages, Soft Cover, Illustrated. Price: $32.95 368 pages, Soft Cover, Illustrated. 800-876-2893

A new practical reference text with 1,000 illustrations covering all aspects of Haymaking with Horses and Mules in harness. Offering in-depth information on Mowers, Rakes, Hayloaders, Buckrakes, Stackers, Tracks and Trollies for barns, Hay Fork systems, Balers, Wagons, Feed Sleds, and Forecart adaptations etc. And covering the building of loose hay stacks and wagon loads. Unloading systems, and feeding systems are also covered. 368 pages, Soft Cover, Illustrated. Price: $32.95

Small Farmer’s Journal
192 W. Barclay Drive
P.O. Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759

A small family-held company doing business in agricultural periodical and book publishing, natural farming and stock raising, alternative farm research/inquiry, horsedrawn implement research & development horsedrawn equipment sales, and related education.



Permalink How can I develop a spring for irrigation?


Answer: There are two basic spring types. A hillside spring is a spring that emerges from the ground on a slope, and water flows by gravity downhill. These springs are developed by digging into the hillside to expose the spring, and installing a collection pipe and a water barrier that diverts water into the pipe. The pipe then will usually lead to a cistern for water collection and sedimentation. From the cistern, the water can be piped by gravity or pump to its final destination, whether it is a livestock water trough, pond, or other use.

A low area spring is another common type. These springs are found in depressions and valleys where the water table is exposed. The main difference between a low area spring and a hillside spring is in the method of catchment and the method of delivery. For a low area spring, a cistern with screen-covered water inlets is set into a hole dug into the spring. A pump can be placed into the cistern to deliver water to its final destination.

Some diagrams depicting the two above-mentioned spring development methods are available in the Alberta Agriculture publication Spring Development, Agdex 716 (A15). In addition, the USDA has a technical publication online entitled Engineering Field Handbook, Chapter 12, Springs and Wells that goes into vast detail on developing streams and wells, and includes engineering information. It can be accessed as a pdf file.


Spring Development Resources

Alberta Agriculture. 2002. Spring Development, Agdex 716 (A15). Technical Services Division.

USDA. 1984. National Engineering Handbook - Part 650, Engineering Field Handbook, Chapter 12, Springs and Wells.

USDA. No date. Spring Development: Small Scale Solutions for your Farm in Indiana. Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Related ATTRA Publications

Energy Saving Tips for Irrigators
Maintaining Irrigation Pumps, Motors, and Engines
Measuring and Conserving Irrigation Water



Permalink What information can you give me on kenaf production?


Answer: Thank you for requesting from ATTRA current information on kenaf production and marketing. This letter updates the information found on our Web site in the 2003 publication Kenaf Production.

Although USDA-funded research began during WWII, acceptance of kenaf by U.S. industry has been very slow. In the 1950’s USDA researchers “identified kenaf as the most promising non-wood fiber for pulp and paper making.”(1) Optimism about kenaf replacing wood pulp for newsprint seems to have peaked about 1993. Now it is far more likely to find uses in other products—and likely to be grown outside the U.S.

Links to USDA agency archives listed below provide a glimpse into the history of kenaf. I am also listing current contacts for past and on-going research into this crop. Many of the organizations formerly promoting kenaf no longer have Web sites.

In the U.S. demand for newsprint is falling, as consolidation of the publishing industry continues and more and more dailies go on-line. Most newsprint producers seem content to continue to pulp their vast holdings of perennial forest land, rather than contracting with large numbers of individual farmers growing an annual crop. Universities currently (or recently) researching kenaf include North Carolina State, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State University. Their Web sites may contain research reports. In the interest of preserving forest land, there has been strong and consistent backing by environmental groups for federally funded research and mandated use of kenaf for newsprint and other paper products.

Economics of Kenaf
Kenaf has been researched for at least 50 years as a possible substitute for wood pulp in papermaking, and as a possible substitute crop for cotton farmers. A relative of okra, it is adapted to areas with a long growing season and is raised in many parts of the tropics as a household fiber crop. Articles published in the mid-to-early 1990s optimistically predicted that kenaf would soon become a major crop in the South. Prototype machinery was devised for harvesting and processing this crop and manufacturing a variety of products from both the long bast fiber and the short-fibered core.

However, kenaf has not replaced wood pulp in papermaking and did not replace cotton. It is not a low-cost substitute for any bulk material. Independent grower networks did not work out because the economic returns are in selling finished products, not the raw material. Processing and marketing take a huge investment. Paper mills, for instance, would have to be completely retooled to accept kenaf as a feedstock.

Instead, kenaf has developed as a specialty crop. Kenaf Industries of South Texas, a vertically integrated company, ships a kenaf-derived raw material to Europe for use as a plastic base in automobile manufacturing, and it sells a lumber substitute, K-Wood, locally as a decking material. The company is developing K-fencing.

Vision Paper of Milan, TX, promotes its kenaf office paper (10% kenaf and 90% recycled stock) and announced in 2005 that it is building a treeless paper mill in Tennessee, the first of its kind in the world. Vision Paper also offers kenaf seed through its Web site, However, the Web site has apparently not been updated since 2005.

Much of the market for kenaf is in selling to environmentally conscious U.S. customers willing to pay a premium for treeless products. Many countries where labor is less costly than the U.S. produce kenaf and kenaf products. Any U.S. production would be on a contract basis—or totally vertically integrated.

A search of brought up 3,196 titles on papermaking. Titles include:

Hiebert, Helen. 2000. The Papermaker’s Companion. $6.92

Maurer-Mathison, Diane K. 2002. The Art of Making Paste Papers.
Paperback. $8.98

Plowman, John. 2001. Papermaking Techniques Book: Over 50
Techniques for Making and Embellishing Handmade Paper. Paperback.

Riemer-Epp, Heidi, and Mary Riemer. 2002. The Encyclopedia of Paper
Making and Book Binding. Hardcover. $9.90

Saddington, Marianne. 1992. Making Your Own Paper. Paperback.

Small-scale papermaking (Technical Memorandum No. 8) by ILO and World Employment Programme. 1984. paperback. $20.25

Other titles deal with aspects of the paper industry and industrial-scale production.


1) USDA/ERS. 1997. Kenaf production and products continue to expand. Industrial Uses/IUS-7. p. 23.


Susan Combs (ed.). 2000. Kenaf: A crop in search of a market. Fiscal Notes. June. Combs is the Texas Controller of Public Accounts.

Links for agency documents:

Geisler, Malinda. 2007. Kenaf. AgMrc (Iowa State University). 1 p.

University of Kentucky Extension. 2005. Kenaf. 1 p.

USDA/ARS. 2004. News & events: New uses for kenaf. 2 p.

USDA/ERS. 1993. Kenaf and flax find niche markets. Industrial Uses/IUS-2. December. p. 19–21.

USDA/ERS. 1997. Kenaf production and products continue to expand. Industrial Uses/IUS-7. p. 23–25.

Kenaf International, McAllen, TX. Processes South Texas kenaf locally to separate bast from core fibers.

Kenaf Paper Manufacturing (KPM), subsidiary of Canadian-based Kafus Capital Corp. Announced plans to use whole-stalk kenaf as its sole fiber source for a newsprint mill in Willacy County, TX.

First Farm Fibers with 750 acres under contract in Delaware collaborates with Curtis Paper Mill, Newark, DE, and with Crane Paper Co., Dalton, MA. First Farm Fibers is a consortium of farmers, investors, and U DE researchers.

Ankal, Inc., Atlanta, GA, has developed technology to separate bast and core fibers; mfg. core-based cat litter. Also working on pelletized fiber and feed.

Lumus Gin Co., Charleston, MS, plans to contract for production on over 1,000 acres of land in 2007.

Two companies advertising kenaf products on the Internet include:
Vision Paper (a division of KP Products) P.O. Box 20399 Albuquerque, NM 87154-0399

Kenaf Industries of South Texas L.P.
Route 2, #50 Kenaf Road
Raymondville, Texas 78580
Phone: 956-642-3395
Fax: 956-642-3482



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