Agronomy VI - Fibre Crops

Online agronomy course focussed on growing arable or broad acre fibre crops - cotton, jute, hemp, flax, kenaf and others

Course Code: BAG313
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Learn to Produce Fibre Crops

  • Know how to grow a wider variety of fibre crops
  • Diversify, innovate
  • Improve on farm viability, profitability, sustainability

Plant fibres from cotton to jute have long been used to make fabrics and ropes; but they have also been used in many other ways – among other things in building and construction.

Growing, harvesting, processing and creating plant fibre based products is an enormous global business. Farm production quite obviously underpins that whole industry. This course focuses on the production of that raw product.

Who is this course for?

  • Farmers and farm workers
  • Farm Support Services - supplying materials, advice, support, education, information
  • Students, academics, entrepreneurs, or anyone with an interest in learning more about fibre crops

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope and Nature of Fibre Crops
    • Introduction
    • Fibre Properties
    • Fibre Uses
    • Types of Fibre Crops
    • Commercial Viability
    • Assessing Land Characteristics
    • Assessing land suitability
    • Broad Acre Farming
    • Crop Production Considerations
    • Production Systems
    • Crop Rotation and Management
    • Cover Crops
    • Crop Islands
  2. Cotton – Part 1
    • Cotton Production
    • Sustainable Agriculture
    • Crop Rotation
    • Conservation Tillage
    • Insects and Diseases
    • Insects
    • Aphids
    • Armyworm
    • Cotton bollworm
    • Cotton Diseases
    • Fungal Diseases
    • Viral Diseases
    • Bacterial Diseases
    • Pesticides and insecticides
    • Cotton Life Cycle
    • Types of Cotton
    • Better Cotton Initiative
    • Genetic modification
  3. Cotton - Part 2
    • Cotton Fibre Properties
    • Improving Properties of Cotton Fibre
    • Flexural testing
    • Industrial Use of Cotton
    • Cotton Fibre in Clothing
    • Wicking
    • Cotton - Milkweed blends
    • Ginning
    • Coloured Cotton
    • Textile Dyeing
    • Load Bearing Materials
    • Harvesting
    • Cotton Pickers
    • Cotton Strippers
    • Cotton Ginning
    • Uses of Cotton
  4. Jute
    • Types and Properties of Jute
    • Jute Production
    • Climatic requirements for Jute
    • Jute Characteristics
    • Genetic Yield Improvements
    • Pests and Diseases
    • Harvesting
    • Uses and Consumption
  5. Industrial Hemp
    • Terminology
    • Types and Properties
    • Cultivation
    • Countries of Production
    • Climate
    • Soil Fertility
    • Water
    • Pests and Diseases
    • Cost
    • Genetic Modification
    • Harvesting
    • Uses and Consumption
    • Geotextiles
    • Fabric
    • Carbon Capture
    • Phytoremediation
    • Hempseed
    • Building
    • Paper
    • Cannabidiol
  6. Sunn Hemp and Kenaf (Deccan Hemp)
    • Sunn Hemp
    • Properties
    • Cultivation
    • Soil Fertility
    • Water
    • Cost
    • Phytoremediation
    • Pests and Diseases
    • Genetic Modification
    • Harvesting
    • Retting
    • Uses
    • Fibre
    • Weed Control
    • Green Manure
    • Biofuel
    • Kenaf (Deccan Hemp)
    • Types and Properties
    • Cultivation
    • Countries of Production
    • Climate
    • Soil Fertility
    • Water Requirements
    • Pests and Diseases
    • Harvesting and Processing
    • Uses and Consumption
    • Textiles
    • Food
    • Sustainable Material
    • Soil Structure
    • Paper
  7. Flax
    • Types and Properties
    • Cultivation
    • Countries of Production
    • Climate
    • Soil
    • Water Requirement
    • Pests and Diseases
    • Genetic Modification
    • Harvesting
    • Processing
    • Uses and Consumption
    • Fabric
    • Bio Composites and Industrial Materials
    • Paper
    • Bioplastic
    • Food
  8. Leaf Fibres and Grass Fibre
    • Abaca and sisal fibres
    • Abaca
    • Types and Properties
    • Production and Cultivation
    • Pests and Diseases
    • Harvesting and Processing
    • Uses and Consumption
    • Sisal
    • Sisal Cultivation
    • Harvesting and Processing
    • Uses and Consumption
    • Grass Fibres – sugarcane and bamboo
    • Sugarcane
    • Properties
    • Sugarcane Culture
    • Growing & Production
    • Soil Conditions
    • Ratooning
    • Tillage
    • Crop Rotation and Break Crops
    • Harvesting
    • Burn-offs
    • Sugarcane Straw
    • Sugarcane Yield Limitations
    • Pests and Diseases
    • Pathogens
    • Uses and Consumption
    • Sugar
    • Energy
    • Bioethanol
    • Bioplastics/Biomaterials
    • Paper and containers
    • Other Uses
    • Alcohol – Rum
    • Bamboo
    • Types and Properties
    • Cultivation
    • Pests and Diseases
    • Harvesting and Processing
    • Uses and Consumption
    • Food
    • Fuel
    • Medicine
    • Building Material
    • Furniture, Household Items and Accessories
    • Clothing
    • Paper
  9. Fruit Fibre - Coir
    • Types and Properties of Coir
    • Coir Production and Cultivation
    • Countries of Production
    • Climate
    • Soil Fertility
    • Water Requirement
    • Cultivars
    • Pests and Diseases
    • Harvesting and Processing
    • Uses and Consumption
    • Cordage
    • Horticulture
    • Construction material
    • Biocontrol
  10. Fibre Processing and the Fibre Future
    • Fibre Quality
    • Retting
    • Biological Retting
    • Dew Retting
    • Water Retting
    • Enzyme Retting
    • Chemical Retting
    • Mechanical Retting
    • Physical Retting
    • Drying
    • Fibre Future
    • Hybrid Composites
    • Geotextiles
    • Building Industry
    • Car Interiors
    • Genetic Improvements
    • Other Fibre Sources

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Explain the scope and nature of fibre crops in agronomy.
  • Explain the different cultivation aspects of cotton.
  • Explain cotton Production, harvesting and uses.
  • Explain the requirements for growing a commercial crop of Jute (Corchorus spp.).
  • Explain the requirements for growing a commercial crop of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa).
  • Explain the requirements for growing commercial crops of Sunn Hemp (Crotalaria juncea) and Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus).
  • Explain the requirements for growing a commercial crop of flax (Linum spp.).
  • Explain the requirements for growing commercial leaf fibre crops, abaca (Musa textilis) and sisal (Agave sisalana), and grass fibre crops, sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) and bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis).
  • Explain the requirements for growing a commercial crop of coir for fibre use.
  • Explain how different fibres are separated and processed for sale, along with modern applications for fibre use.

How are Fibre Crops Farmed?

Most fibre crops have been produced by growing broad acre monocultures. This refers to growing large areas of a single crop in which almost no diversity is present at all. Crops grown in this way are often especially open to attack from weed and pest species. Many predators return annually to these farms, assured of a continual food source. The stripping of crop-targeted nutrients from the soil is also a major problem in a monoculture. To combat these effects farmers are required to use greater quantities of chemicals in the form of herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers. Various methods are therefore used to break the cycle of monoculture including crop rotations (also called break crops), cover crops, intercropping, agroforestry etc.

Crop Rotation and Management
Many of the problems associated with monocultures can be minimised by simply rotating crops. As a general rule, in situations where there are more problems, leave greater time periods between plantings of the same crop. Sustainability may be improved by the following:

  • Grow a crop or crops for half of the year and graze the same area the other half.
  • Grow several different crops on the farm and rotate them so the same crop is not grown in the same paddock more than once every two to three years (or preferably longer).
  • Fallow areas between crops (i.e. do not graze or grow a crop during the rest period).
  • Grow cover crops for green manure at least annually to revitalise the soil, this approach is not that effective in dryer farming areas.
  • Ley farming systems. This involves alternating cereal grain production with pasture. Annual medics or sub clover, mixed with grasses, are useful to produce high quality forage.

Cover Crops
A cover crop is simply a plant that is grown for the purpose of improving the condition of the soil in which it is grown. It is most commonly ploughed in or sprayed out but can also be cut and left to lie on the soil. The latter method is very slow but can be effective. In theory, a cover crop should increase organic content and fertility of the soil, but research has shown that this is not always the case.

Crop Islands
One method that is employed is to plant species-rich ‘islands’ at intervals throughout the crop. These resource islands, which can be made up of literally hundreds of different indigenous plant species, seem to work quite effectively at controlling pest and disease populations as well as increasing soil fertility.
Weed management is paramount as is with any cropping situation and will dramatically affect yield if not managed well.


What Plants are Grown for Fibre?

Fibre crops are field crops that are typically grown for fibre, but may also have other benefits. Cotton is the most obvious and most widely grown fibre crop; but there are many other significant plants also grown for fibre. Fibre is a general term for slender cells that are much longer than their width, and that typically have thick secondary walls. The multitude of product options that can be produced from fibre crops is impressive. Products derived from fibre crops include, clothing - but more broadly :building materials, automotive and aviation components, body armoury, paper, bio-fuels (ethanol), pharmaceutical products, textile and geo-textile products.  


ACS Distance Education holds an Educational Membership with the ATA.
ACS Distance Education holds an Educational Membership with the ATA.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
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ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
ACS is a Member of the Permaculture Association (membership number 14088).
ACS is a Member of the Permaculture Association (membership number 14088).
ACS is an organisational member of the Future Farmers Network.
ACS is an organisational member of the Future Farmers Network.
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UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.


Meet some of the tutors that guide the students through this course.

Robert Browne

ROBERT K BROWNE completed his Honour's degree in Aquaculture at the Key Center for Aquaculture, Australia, and then obtained a Ph.D. (1998) in Conservation Biology from the University of Newcastle, Australia. Robert's Ph.D. was seminal to the development of biobanking to preserve the genetic diversity of threatened amphibian species, where he developed the first reproduction providing fertile amphibian eggs from cryopreserved sperm, and since then his research has led to many major advances. Robert's science career has included consultancy with biotechnology corporations, and in response to the global biodiversity conservation crisis has focused on amphibian conservation and sustainability. Working with zoos in Australia, the USA, Europe, and for the IUCN has led Robert to work with a wide range of international collaborative conservation programs. Robert has experience in a wide range of research fields supporting herpetological conservation and environmental sustainability and has published more than 45 research articles in the fields of terrestrial and marine ecology, marine fish and amphibian taxonomy, nutrition, pathology, larval growth and development, husbandry, karyology, thermo-biology, reproduction technologies, and facility design, and also several book chapters. Robert remains active in research, and in developing a global project for the sustainable management of the Goliath grouper.

Gareth Pearce

Gareth has over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in a variety of colleges and universities in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon at the Universities of Melbourne and Bristol, having previously graduated in Agricultural Science and gained a PhD in Livestock Behaviour and Production. He also has post-graduate qualifications in Education, Wildlife Conservation Medicine, Aquatic Veterinary Studies and Wildlife Biology & Conservation.

Alexander O'Brien

Alex was born and raised in Cork, in the Republic of Ireland. Having been trained in Architecture, Permaculture, Mechanical Engineering, Ceramics, Furniture Design/Construction, Sustainable building and Art,Craft and Design, his knowledge base is broad. Much of his professional work has been designing and making nature inspired spaces, creative reuse of materials, permaculture and natural ecology regeneration.

That being said, in his own words, " real passion is teaching. I adore sharing my knowledge and experience. Seeing students progress, and learning, that is my soul food."'

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