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To the slash pine coastal flats of northeastern Florida one day last week went nervous, balding President Edward M. Mills of Rayonier Inc., world’s biggest producer of the white, superfine dissolving pulps used by rayon makers for viscose yarn and staple fibre. No urge to fish in landlocked Fernandina harbor or take the sun on its 14-mile beach had taken him to Florida’s northernmost resort, now sadly down at the heel. He went to see Rayonier’s newest pulp plant for the first time since it went into production early in December. Ahead lay a beckoning market. World War II had opened the possibility of new foreign markets to U. S. rayon makers, already pushing production to meet the biggest domestic boom in their history.

While the late great Industrial Chemist Charles Holmes Herty was still at work on his process to make newsprint from the pesky, resinous southern pine, Rayonier had put its research staff of twelve Ph.D.s to work in its laboratory in Shelton, Wash, on a process for using southern pine for rayon pulp. Laboratory-proved, their process had its production test on Dec. 6 when the Fernandina plant turned out its first batch of pulp, 30 tons. For the South, proud of industrial growth, it was also a first: today Fernandina is the only producer of bleached sulfite pulp from southern pine. (Other Southern plants produce sulfate pulp, for kraft papers, paperboard, bags, book stock, etc.)

Production at the plant has stepped up to 145 tons a day, should hit capacity, 180 tons (64,000 a year) before many more days. This means that Rayonier’s total production from Fernandina and its four Pacific Coast plants will shortly reach something over 300,000 tons a year, about 16% of the world’s estimated output.

In the first month of operation most of the Fernandina pulp went to makers of plastics and fine white papers. For this the war was partly responsible. Plastics and fine paper men, fat with booming business, have been stepping up domestic pulp orders, in fear that the war, which has already crippled Finnish producers, may soon cut down imports from Sweden, Norway, other pulp suppliers. For Fernandina pulp, designed for more exacting uses, this is welcome business to get the plant going. But its real destiny is the rayon plants.

For 15 years the U. S. dissolving pulp field has been left to the U. S. and Canadian manufacturers, who have ample capacity to fill domestic orders. What the U. S. does not use, pulp suppliers like Rayonier and its chief North American competitor — Canadian International Paper Co. — sell abroad either directly as pulp or indirectly through those who sell rayon for export. For U. S. rayon makers today the foreign market looks better than it ever has before. Completely out of it is Germany, No. 2 world rayon producer. And wobbling badly because of spavined foreign exchange, other effects of the China “incident,” is No. 1 producer Japan, wide open for competition from the U. S. (No. 3).

Best customer for U. S. dissolving pulp for years was Japan, which hit its high buying point in 1937 with orders of 112,000 tons from Rayonier alone. But from a top-heavy inventory, Japan’s mills have been working with reduced U. S. pulp imports. Last year Rayonier’s Japanese sales were only 24,500 tons. This year Japanese buyers are talking about orders of 100,000 tons, but it remains to be seen where the money is coming from.

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