April 2017
Farm & Field

Brazilian Plantations to Alabama Hay Fields

Sisal baler twine makes a long journey to your farm.

 

Figure 1. Sisal plant leaves are considered mature when they fall to a horizontal position.

Legend tells of a Mayan prince traveling through the Yucatan Peninsula when he was spiked and severely injured by a native agave plant with long, sword-like leaves. In his rage, he ordered the plant flogged as punishment! The executioner literally beat the plant to a pulp revealing the long, sinewy fibers, making famous what is known today as sisal.

Hernan Cortez, on his way to conquering the Aztec Empire in 1521 and winning Mexico for the Spanish Crown, paved the way for exportation of agave and other goods from what became the Spanish Colonial Port of Sisal in Yucatan – thus the name SISAL.

Agave sisal naturalized to various parts of the world; however, it was not until the 19th century that sisal cultivation spread to Florida, the Caribbean Islands, Brazil, Asia and Africa, notably Tanzania and Kenya.

Sisal plants grow in arid land with medium-quality soil and, because plantations are independent of irrigation, it is important for Mother Nature to supply adequate amounts of moisture. It takes five or six years for plants to mature. Leaves are considered mature when they fall to a horizontal position. (Fig. 1) Only four to six leaves become horizontal at the same time on each plant. They are promptly cut and it takes another month or two before the next four to six leaves fall.

Consequently, about 15-16 leaves per plant are harvested annually. If leaves are not cut at the proper time, the plant throws up a stalk instead of leaves. This is the death of the plant and will affect others in the vicinity if not removed immediately.

The first commercial plantings in Brazil were made in the late 1930s and the first sisal fiber exports from there were made in 1948. Not until the 60s did Brazilian production accelerate and the first of many spinning mills were established making Brazil the leading producer of sisal fiber and twine.

Advancement in methods of production has been slow. Harvesting of sisal fiber remains labor intensive and is most often conducted on large plantations in hot, dry conditions using machetes, pack mules (Fig. 2), wagons and a dangerous (non-OSHA approved) machine called a decorticator. (Fig. 3) This portable device was developed to grind pulp off the leaf and expose the fibers. Needless to say, you don’t want to get your hand caught up in this bad boy!

Figure 2

 

Figure 3

At the factory, fibers are hung over fences and rails to dry out before grading and processing. (Fig. 4) Upon inspection, operators position fiber inside the mill to begin four stages of combing, spinning, twisting and winding. (Fig. 5)

Figure 4

 

Figure 5

Figure 6

 

The three basic sizes of sisal baler twine – 7,200, 9,000 and 16,000 – are then packaged, stacked, wrapped and strapped onto skids (Fig. 6) and loaded into 40-foot ocean containers. Transit time from this point at the factory in Brazil is anywhere from 30-60 days before landing at a U.S. port; hence, the reason your local Quality Co-op requires orders months in advance of delivery. In fact, it is quite possible the twine you bale with this summer was a sisal leaf cut with a machete 12 months earlier!

Due to its supply instability, sisal has always been susceptible to wide fluctuations in price from year to year. This presents risky challenges to those in the game and makes the case as to why the Co-op system benefits YOU, the farmer, through its strong dealer network by spreading that risk across the board.

Most recently, Alabama Farmers Cooperative Inc. partnered with Tytan International, a leading supplier of not only sisal baler twine but also poly twine and net wrap with factories overseas and in the United States.

Stop by your local Quality Co-op store and discover the full range of crop packaging products it stocks.

Looking for something unique? Additional twine and net is located in the Decatur warehouse for backup access. Weekly truck routes deliver products to all Co-op locations. Simply ask one of our trained associates and visit us online at www.alafarm.com.

 

Rusty Woy is a sales rep with Tytan International.