Jute is sown and harvested annually (the White Jute crop is usually mature in July, the Tossa crop slightly later). It grows best in monsoon climates, as the cultivation requires plentiful rainfull – essential not only for the good growth of the plant, but also to provide fresh water for retting (the plant is cut and immersed in clean pond-water or slow-running streams, to clean and soften the fibre and to enable it to be stripped from the stem). Too little rainfall can reduce the size of the crop and also affect the quality of the fibre, if there is insufficient water to remove impurities. Too much rain before the plants reach maturity may also reduce the size of the crop, if it becomes necessary to make an early harvest to avoid flooding damage.
Jute is mainly grown by small farmers and traded through balers and stockists. The plant can grow to a height of more than three metres and fibre length of upto 2.5 metres. The lower part of the plant (known as the butt or cutting) can also be used for lower-quality purposes, or blended with longer fibre during spinning to reduce the cost of production. The stem of the plant can be burned as firewood, so very little is wasted.
Jute is a rain-fed crop with little need for fertilizer or pesticides, in contrast to cotton’s heavy requirements. Production is concentrated mostly in India’s state of Assam, Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh. The jute fiber comes from the stem and ribbon (outer skin) of the jute plant. The fibers are first extracted by retting. The retting process consists of bundling jute stems together and immersing them in slow running water. There are two types of retting: stem and ribbon. After the retting process, stripping begins; women and children usually do this job. In the stripping process, non-fibrous matter is scraped off, then the workers dig in and grab the fibers from within the jute stem. India is the world’s largest producer of jute. India, Pakistan, and China import significant quantities of jute fiber and products from Bangladesh, as does the United Kingdom, Japan, United States, France, Spain, Côte d’Ivoire, Germany and Brazil.
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