Appeared on Corbett e-mail list Sat, 18 Nov 2000
From: Perdue and Persinos
The following is a copy of Document No. 225-14, Special Collection on Fiber Plants, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD, a carbon copy of a memorandum for signature of Andre de Coppet and W.B.V. Findley, respectively President and Secretary of La Plantation Dauphin, S.A. It bears the date December 28, 1942. The Plantation had been asked by the U.S. Government to expand sisal production and had begun clearing land near Fort Liberty for planting. Expansion would require a massive amount of plant and equipment and could not be accomplished without assignment of priorities for these needs. The writers give the pros and cons for the proposed expansion and seek a decision.
The question of whether or not new sisal fields should be planted at this time raises a fundamental question of policy which is of such great potential importance that this Company considers that it is its duty to place all the facts as fairly and impartially as it can before the various authorities in Washington who have the responsibility of determining policy.
This Company has been operating in the production of sisal since February, 1927. We are today the largest producers of sisal in the Western Hemisphere, and we take pride in the fact that we have frequently heard it said that we are one of the most efficiently and successfully operated plantations in the West Indies. We have over 15,000 acres planted with sisal, which at present produce annually over 20,000,000 lbs. of cordage sisal. In order that we may take full advantage of our present fields, we are increasing our plant capacity so that the production may be immediately increased by over 3,500,00 lbs. a year. This increase in our present plant we are doing entirely with our own resources. Our sisal is universally recognized as at least equal in quality to the best produced anywhere in the world, and with Java and Sumatra cut off, it is superior to any other now available to the United Nations.
Our entire production of cordage sisal has been sold through June, 1945, to the Defense Supplies Corporation. We have been reliably informed that our sisal is considered the best available substitute for Manila hemp, and that for that reason, the Government has given rigid instructions to the various cordage companies that our sisal should only be used in the manufacture of ropes and that practically all of those ropes may only be sold to the Navy, the Army, the Maritime Commission and for a few other uses which have the highest priority ratings. Our production has first call on shipping facilities from Haiti.
Last Spring we were asked by various officials of the United States Government if we would increase our existing fields. We pointed out that even with the advantage of our being able to use surplus suckers from our existing fields, which would represent a saving of perhaps twelve months as compared with completely new plantations, we could not get into production before January, 1945. We were still urged to do so and were offered financial assistance by the Government if we desired it. Frankly, considered as a business proposition, it was not attractive, as no one could forecast the situation after 1945. However, we decided that if sisal were so urgently needed, it was our duty to take advantage of the fact that we had a large excess of suckers available for immediate planting, as well as to employ our fifteen years experience in this way. We therefore determined to plant 12,000 acres, beginning last July. We asked for neither financial assistance from United States Government Department, nor for any guaranty of selling price when we commenced harvesting. We did, however, point out that we would require priority assistance for a large amount of material, and we were assured by these officials that this would be forthcoming when needed.
We accordingly started clearing and planting, and now have about 2,000 acres planted. We anticipate having 5,000 acres planted by next July, 4,000 acres more in the next twelve months, and 3,000 acres more by July, 1945. This acreage should yield over 13,000,000 lbs. During 1945, and thereafter from 18,000,000 to 20,000,000 lbs. a year.
This project will cost over $1,200,000. We shall require over 3,000 tons of materials from the United States, having a value of about $530,000. These materials may be divided under the following headings:
|Iron and Steel||rails, pipes, tanks, hand farm implements, etc.||$85,150||1056|
|Transportation||locomotives, cars, tractors, trucks, etc.||$130.200||386|
|Electrical supplies||generators, motors, switches, etc.||$87,100||139|
|Fixed machinery||decorticators, dryers, etc.||$80,750||488|
|Cement||including asbestos cement piping||$25,000||837|
9% of these materials will be needed during the first half of 1943, 13% during the second half of 1943, 30% during the first half of 1944, and 48% during the second half of 1944. A very large part of our requirements will have to be new, either because they could not be found in the used market, or because it would be dangerous to employ second-hand materials under conditions such as exist in Haiti, where repairs are difficult to make, and long delays in receiving replacements are inevitable. It is obvious that we would not, and should not, receive these materials unless we were making a real and valuable contribution to the War effort.
SINCE OUR REQUIREMENTS WILL BE IN 1943 AND 1944, AND OUR PRODUCTION WILL ONLY COMMENCE EARLY IN 1945, SHOULD WE BE ASSURED THAT WE SHALL BE GIVEN THE PRIORITY ASSISTANCE WHICH WILL BE NECESSARY FOR US TO COMPLETE THE PROJECT?
There is little doubt but that sisal which is NOW available ranks high among the critical materials, and unquestionably the United States Government would gladly purchase our entire production even if it were many times greater than it is. However, the new fields will only produce in 1945.
In the Spring of 1942, the hard fiber situation seemed almost desperate. The Philippines were lost and with them Manila hemp. Java and Sumatra, with their sisal, were gone. The Japs were at the borders of Bengal where the World's supply of jute is produced. The Mediterranean was closed. East Africa, with it sisal might be attacked, or at least its shipping cut off. It looked like a long war. No substitutes were available, nor any well advanced plan.
Since then, the military situation has greatly improved. East Africa seems safe; it seems improbable that India can be successfully attacked; the Mediterrean may soon be opened; there is a possibility of an early collapse of the Axis powers. Furthermore, the American hemp program will meet some of the most urgent needs. True, this program is being financed largely by the Government; requires a large amount of strategic materials; the product will be expensive and inferior in quality to sisal, and could not hope to compete in normal times without Government subsidies. Nevertheless, it may be in production by the latter part of 1943, and does not have to be imported. It may be most uneconomical and will involve a heavy loss, but it will meet some of our immediate essential needs and the loss will have to be charged up to part of the cost of the War.
Therefore, although La Plantation Dauphin should be given priority assistance to maintain its existing plantation or to expand its present facilities where immediate increase in production would be obtained, it should not receive strategic materials for fields which would only commence production early in 1945. It would be wiser to use these strategic materials to produce articles which would be consumed in the War effort during 1943 and 1944, and take the chance that, the War being then over, the sisal from the new field will not be so urgently needed.
Forecasting future turns of the War is always dangerous. However, it is probably safe to predict that we shall always need the Navy and cargo ships. The essential requirements of these vessels will always rank high on the list of urgent needs, and the Navy and cargo ships will always need ropes. These ropes were made from Manila hemp. We do not pretend that even the best grades of sisal can completely fill the place of the best grades of Manila hemp, but the finest grades of sisal come closer to it than any other fiber. The best grades of sisal came from Java, Sumatra and our plantation in Haiti, which leaves us today in the rather unique position of being able to furnish the best substitute for an essential need of the rapidly increasing Navy and Merchant Marine.
Sisal has been processed for decades by the American cordage mills. The product is well known; the machinery is equipped to handle it without changes. Any new fiber will require long experiments and changes in machinery to be properly handled.
Our project involves no financial risk or obligation by the Government. Any new fiber will inevitably involve such a risk. For example, the American hemp program will represent millions invested by the Government, with a certainty of a heavy loss, since the lowest estimate which we have seen of cost of this hemp at the cordage mills is far higher than the normal price of sisal, and our sisal is unquestionably superior in quality.
Our company has shown for years that it "knows how", so that the machinery will go to experienced people. Any new fiber, such as American hemp, will require machinery which will go to inexperienced people for the simple reason that there are so few people who have any practical knowledge of the subject. They will of course learn, but they will learn at the expense of critical material which are urgently needed for the War effort.
Only 22% of our requirement will be needed in 1943; almost one-half will only be required in the second half of 1944. By that time the War may be over or drawing to the final stages, and the materials could almost certainly be spared to us. And, if the War is not then over, and there are still long periods of fighting ahead, we venture to predict that it will be universally recognized that it was a sound decision at this time to have permitted us to have 12,000 additional acres ready to yield in 1945, 13,000,000 lbs., and thereafter 20,000,000 lbs., a year of the finest sisal.
There is still another angle. We have been in production for nearly thirteen years, and even during the deepest periods of the depression we did not cut down on our output. We employ about 4,000 men and women. The new plantation will employ perhaps 3,000. Our product is sold exclusively to the United States, thus furnishing hundred of thousands of dollars a year of exchange which can serve to purchase American products. Thus, here is a project which will fill an urgent War need, will employ thousands of Haitians, and its product will be sold exclusively in the United States. If the "Good Neighbor Policy" means anything more than pious talk, is this not an ideal measure?
The question of policy which we have outlined above is, we submit, of such great potential importance that we believe that all interested parties should be willing to state their positions.
Our position is that if the decision is against the project, we shall discontinue the clearing and planting of the fields, as obviously sisal fields without means of transporting the leaves from the fields to a central processing plant, or with no such plant to process the leaves, serve no useful purpose. If, however, the decision is that this project is sufficiently vital to the War Effort to give us assurances that we shall get the machinery and equipment which we shall need, when we need them, then we are prepared to continue with the project without asking for any financial aid from the Government, or any contract with the Government for purchase of the sisal as it matures.
We invite those officials of the United States Government to whom is delegated the duty of determining policy to state their position. In order that this may be effectively done, we suggest that a conference should be called in the near future, which we shall be glad to attend, and that at this conference, the various officials may express their views, in order that a sound and carefully considered decision may be reached.
LA PLANTATION DAUPHIN, S. A.
Andre de Coppet, President
A.V.B. Findley, Secretary
December 28, 1942
42 Broadway, New York City
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