Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/41

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In summarizing the situation in this country, therefore, it will be seen that, out of the hundreds of fibrous plants known to the botanist and to the fiber expert, the textile economist need only consider four or five species and their varieties, all of them supplying well-known commercial products that are regularly quoted in the world's market price current, the cultivation and preparation of which are known quantities. Were the future of new fiber industries in this country to rest upon this simple statement, there would be little need of further effort. The problem, however, is one of economical adaptation to conditions not widely understood in the first place, and not altogether within control in the second.

Twenty flax farmers in a community decide to grow flax for fiber, and two of these farmers are perhaps acquainted with the culture. They go to work each in his own way; ten make a positive failure in cultivation for lack of proper direction, five of the remaining ten fail in retting the straw, and five succeed in turning out as many different grades of flax line, only one grade of which may come up to the standard required by the spinners. And all of them will have lost money. If the failure is investigated it will be discovered that the proper seed was not used; in some instances the soil was not adapted to the culture, and old-fashioned ideas prevailed in the practice followed. The straw was not pulled at the proper time, and it was improperly retted. The breaking and scutching were accomplished in a primitive way, because the farmers could not afford to purchase the necessary machinery, and of course they all lost money, and decided in future to let flax alone.

But the next year the president of the local bank, the secretary of the town board of trade, and three or four prosperous merchants formed a little company and built a flax mill. A competent superintendent—perhaps an old country flax-man—was employed, a quantity of good seed was imported, and the company contracted with these twenty farmers to grow five, ten, or fifteen acres of flax straw each, under the direction of the old Scotch superintendent. The seed was sold to them to be paid for in product; they were advised regarding proper soil and the best practice to follow; they grew good straw, and when it was ready to harvest the company took it off their hands at a stipulated price per ton. The superintendent of the mill assumed all further responsibility, attended to the retting, and worked up the product. Result: several carloads of salable flax fiber shipped to the Eastern market in the winter, the twenty farmers had "money to burn" instead of flax straw, and the company was able to declare a dividend. This is not altogether a supposititious case, and it illustrates the point that in this day of specialties the fiber industry can only be established by co-operation.