We, * Daily Times,' have been favored by a gentleman who has recently traversed a large portion of the province, for the purpose of acquiring information on the subject, with the following notes regarding the progress of the flax industry in Otago. It appears that there are over twenty mills either at work or in progress in various parts of the province at the present time, and that a con-sidei-able number are projected. A large portion of these have only one machine, but some have as many as four, and each machine is capable of turning out a ton of dre3sed fibre per week. The mills aro thus distributed : — Water of Leith, 1 Kaikorai, 1 Halfway Bush, 1 Sa'idfly, Peninsula, 1 Blueskin, 1 Kakanui, 1 Oauuiru. 2 J Hampden, 1 j East Taieri, 1 North Taieri, 1 j West Taieri. 1, two machines Maungatua, 2 Henry's Flat, 1, projected Toko'mairiro, 1 ; 4urs projected Waiholss, 1 Akatore,^,,, Helensbrook, 1 CJiutha, 2, 1 machine each ; 1 , 4 machines Port Molyneux, 1 , 3 machines C ial Point, 4 or 5 projected Kaitun-jata, i, 2 machines; 2 more mills preparing. The production ab present cannot be less than 20 tons per week of fibre dressed, more or less for shipment, and this quantity will very shortly be doubled. Should the production reach fifty tons weekly, at the average of L2O per ton, ifc will be worth over L 50,000 per. annum, and employ in the manufacture several hundred persons. We believe this estimate will be very greatly extended before twelve months have passed away, but the preparation has at present so much of the experimental about it, as to require caution . Beginners will do well to get one machine at work satisfactorily before they order more. It must be remembered chat in order to produce a weekly supply of fifty tons of dressed flax, over three hundred tons of the leaf must be gathered. Reckoning 10 tons of raw flax to the acre— a moderate average — it would take, cutting only once a >ear, more than twenty-six thousand acres of flax land to keep the mills supplied all the year round. While the supply depends on the natural growth, without cultivation, the utmost care should be used in cutting not to cut the young and tender shoots, and so destroy the plant as to prevent its bearing a full crop the following year, Sufficient attention, we fear, is not being paid to this consideration ; the supply "is therefore likely to run short before the mill-owners are aware of it. With regard to the different processes of preparation, much variety in detail, but general similarity in principle, characterises the different factories. Mr Wilson's machine is the one chiefly used, though Messrs Kincaid and M'Queen's is preferred by our informant, on account of its being more substantial and durable. The Auckland machines are in use at one factory, but we have not heard with what comparative results. Both steam and water power are in use for driving the machines, the latter of course with greater economy, where water is plentiful. Only two mills— one at Kaitangata and one at Port Molyneux — hydraulic-press the flax into bales on the premises ; but where there is much inland or coastal carriage, it will doubtless be found necessary in each district to press-pack the flax before forwarding sc bulky a material to Dunedin for sale or shipment. The cost of production appears to range between Ll2 and Ll4 per ton, but. wages are very high at present — even boys getting as much as 25s per week. The labor is the most serious item of coat. Very imperfect arrangements appear to have been mode at some of the mills for washing and drying. In some cases ths flax is only°washed for a few minutes in the running water, being stirred about by sticks ; in others it is allowed to soak for an hour, or two ; while in aowe instances it remains in the water for several hours. We believe it would be better if it could bo trodden by the feet, bo as thoroughly to loosen the fibre, and passed through several rinsing troughs, each higher, up the stream than the other, so that the impurities would be carried quickly off. Then; on the drying and bleaching •ground^ if the grass be English grass, it will grow underhand through the flax and greatly discolour it. Short native grass forms the best bleaching ground, as it is not so succulent and therefore does not discolour the fibre. In some mills, particularly at the Molyneux, 'a great^scarcity of clear water is felt, and the , water used too frequently discolors the flax and seriously deteriorates its value. As
winter comes on, no doubt proper drying houses will have to be erected and heated by steam. The prevailing opinion seems to be that it will scarcely pay to " scutch " the flax in this country. It may be, however, that if it is sent home in its rough state, It will not retain itg position in the market. The range of prices, as will be seen by laat advices, is various, ranging between L2O 15s for a lot described as rough, and L 52 for the best. Messrs G. and J. A. Noble say in their circular of Dec. 2 :— " Some of the late arrivals were only partially cleaned at the extremity, and the flax apparently only bruised. In this state it is not suitable for working with Manilla hemp, consequently values are materially altered." The tow got in the process of scutching appears to realise from Ll6 to LlB per ton at home, but recent sales here put it so low as to render it almost valueless. If a market could be found fcr the tow here, at L 7 or L 8 per ton, it would be worth while to scutch, arid it might be better to cut off the ends of the leaf where the fibre is not properly separate 1. A hint as to present high prices at home will not be out of place. These prices are chiefly owing to an advance in Manilla hemp of Lls per ton. Already there is a reaction of L 2 per ton on this commodity, which proportionally affects New Zealand flax. This high figure cannot be maintained and there is therefore need for caution and for care in preparing a thoroughly marketable article. Flat of all ages and qualities is cut ou the present system, and mixed up together ; but it is only the bright long fibre that commands the highest price. We saw one sample from the Molyneux of beautifully white flax that would, we are satisfied, bring a high figure, but it was from a leaf of not more than six to nine months' growth. It seems quite certain that, if judiciously cut, at least one full crop a year can be obtained ofl the wild plants. It may be quite possible to obtain two crops by cultivation. Steps should now be taken in different districts to plant a considerable acreage ; and. for this purpose, it would be desirable to obtain from the North Island some young plants of the yellow-flowered kind, which is said to be much superior to the red-flowered description prevalent in this province. It may l>e that the climate has more to do with the quality than the particular variety of plant, but the matter is worth a trial, inasmuch as it promises to produce the best results. If it be true, as we are told, that 10 to 15 tons per acre of the leaf may be obtained, equal to a produce of 1£ to 2 tons of fibre per acre, there could scarcely be a more profitable crop ; and, once planted, with proper management, the plants would last for years. It is clear that much has yet to be learned witli respect to flax -dressing, and we ought not to be satisfied until somu effective means of ridding the fibre of the gum, which is the groat objection to manufacturers, is discovered Wo understand that some machinery has been recently imported, and is now being orected, which is described as most complete and effective, and capable of producing a remarkably fine fibre from the flax leaf.
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FLAX., Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 304, 23 February 1870
FLAX. Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 304, 23 February 1870
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