How to Start Growing Commercially
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Ruth Long
Posted on: May 24, 1998

My husband and I farm in Union County, Iowa. We are interested in commercial production of herbs. To start we would like to start small with about an acre of open ground. In addition, we have some timber land (mostly white oak) where we could raise goldenseal or ginseng. On the open ground we would like to use the machinery and equipment we already use in our grain production. Can you give us some guidance on how to proceed with this exciting new (to us) venture?

Starting small is the right approach. There is a lot that a new grower has to learn about growing and marketing herbs before he or she will successful. First, there are relatively little reliable cultural data available -- very often experimentation is necessary. Second, there are few, if any, acceptible weed and pest controls available for herbs. Third, there is much to learn about when and how to harvest, and most often, existing farm equipment has to be adapted for good results. Fourth, there is no central market where you can take your herbs and expect to sell them -- marketing herbs requires determination and often openness to new approaches that you may not have thought of doing before.

Start with perhaps a half dozen herbs that you think are feasible from both a cultural point of view and from a business point of view. Divide your acre plot to grow these six herbs. Learn as much as you can about the growing and harvesting of them -- and record everything -- input costs, including labour, yields -- so that you have a good understanding of the costs and the potential for profits.

These test plots will yield samples which you can send to potential buyers. If your crops include some that that is graded by active constituent levels then you need to arrange for chemical analyses of your products.

Once you have a good handle on one or two most promising crops -- and this may take a few years -- you can start to scale up to a more ambitious size with correspondingly greater revenue and profits.

During the "testing" phase use the opportunity to learn as much about the crops you are testing as you can. There are increasingly more books that help, and there are more conferences than ever that you can attend. Consider coming to our very successful annual Richters Commercial Herb Growing conference held in October.

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