Production Capability in North America
North America’s vast agricultural heartlands are untapped sources of pulp and paper fiber. Every year, millions of tons of agricultural residue like wheat and flax straw go unused while our forests are logged to make more paper.
The 22+ million acres of wheat grown in Canada  results in 13-20 million tons of available wheat straw. Canada also grows an additional 1.2 million acres of flax.
That leaves enough straw, if used for pulp and paper, to meet much of North America’s book and copy paper needs without cutting down ancient and endangered forests.
Other fibers such as sorghum, rye and some crops planted specifically for stalk fiber can also be used for manufacturing pulp for paper and potentially for textiles.
 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2014
Greenfield, Brownfield and Feeding into Existing Lines
Greenfield refers to building a new manufacturing facility. Because paper making in North America has used wood as the fiber input, most pulp and paper mills are built near woodlands. Most viable straw pulp facilities need to access fiber from within a 75 to 100 mile radius.
Brownfield refers to a retrofit of an existing mill. There are a few existing pulp and paper mills in North America that are near the fiber basket and that could be retrofitted to pulp straw.
Once straw pulp is made it can be used as a feed into existing paper mills alongside wood or recycled paper pulps. Some companies will want to manufacture a specific pulp and paper product all in one mill facility. Others will want to produce a market pulp that can be sold to a number of different buyers who then manufacture different kinds of paper – from packaging to printing papers, newsprint, coated magazine paper, tissue and potentially as a rayon/viscose substitute.
A Short History of Paper Making with Agricultural Fibers
Wood-based paper is a relatively recent addition to the paper making process in North America and around the world.
In North America, paper was made almost exclusively from recycled linen (flax) and rags until 1850.
A powerful turn of industrial development laws introduced tax credits and favourable freight rates in the late 1800’s. It was this development that firmly established forests as the primary paper material. These incentives remain to this day and are a big part of our reliance on endangered forests for our paper needs.
During World War II and right up until 1960, there were 25 mills in the U.S. that produced paper from wheat straw. Currently there are only a couple of small specialty mills in the U.S. that use straw pulps (e.g. Schwietzer Mauduit cigarette paper made with flax bast in New Jersey.) Global estimates for paper made with agricultural residues is between four and eight percent.
Wood is good for making paper in many ways, but new technologies have been developed to make straw pulp and paper processing economically competitive. We’ve come a long way from the days of papyrus paper made in ancient Egypt and from the dirty old mills that China has been shutting down because of pollution. In fact, non-wood pulping in the northern hemisphere was historically built around long fiber stalk plants, like flax and hemp and cotton, but newer technologies are now able to make high quality pulps and paper using more commonly grown plants like wheat or sorghum.