Commercial Lavender
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Jon A
Posted on: September 30, 1998

Could you give me any information on lavender? I would like to know how to grow it, where to get seed, where to market it, what all it is used for, what regions do they grow it in mostly and what kind of machinery do you use? If you can help me, I would appreciate it.

As you have expressed your question regarding Lavender, this would be a Technical Crop Report. These are large monographs, or a mini-book prepared on a specific crop, detailing cultivation, harvesting, and marketing considerations necessary for commercial production. While they are beyond the scope of response for this section of the Web Page, Conrad Richter has asked me to begin preparing these for the serious farmer.

I can highlight some aspects, however, as I have done in previous questions on this crop. At some point, I will group my brief responses into a folder for downloading. For now, let’s start by saying that Lavender is fun to grow, but has some serious harvesting considerations. It likes to grow on hostile soils with good slant/drainage (14%) - perfect for that back 14 acres now useless for even cattle. Your seed source, of course, is (and should always be) Richters of Canada.

However, what do you plan to market? The flower petal is its largest botanical market (other than as an essentail oil), now supplied by France (for the last 200 years). Their price landed? $4.00/lb. These are used in formulas and potpourri mixes. Stripping the petal off the spike is labor intensive, and usually does not show profits when done by hand.

This means you will also need to invent a petal stripper as part of the crop development program. The French do it by drying it on spikes, and then jumping on it (like grapes). This then requires serious sifting and scalping of the stem pieces. Essentail oil of Lavender is made for the cosmetic industry (via steam distillation).

Most domestic growers attempt to harvest and then sell dried spikes (with flower petals) to the Floral Trade (by the "bunch" or "hand"). Nine Dutch families currently control this world floral trade, again leaving minimal profit margins. The only way I’ve seen domestic growers make Lavender profitable is by using it in a cottage industry (on site) program, where it is an essential part of the "package."

For the Lavender Flower Petals, the smaller domestic buyers are usually regional wholesalers for nutrition centers and the retail herb trade. They would include such companies as Herbarium (Kenosha), Lebermuth (South Bend), and Whole Herb (Sonoma). There are many new uses being developed for Lavender, including its use as an ingredient for cosmetics and soaps.

Larger import houses for the Flower Petals are usually found in and around New York, like Meer Corporation (North Bergen), although Botanicals International (Long Beach) also imports this crop for some of the regional potpourri manufacturers. There is also now a limited use of the Flower Petals as a herb tea ingredient.

Most Lavender is sold, however, as an essential oil or flower oil. These companies include Penta Manufacturing (Fairfield), Polarome (Jersey City), Robertet (Oakland), and E.L. Scott & Co (New York), a primary importer. Most of this is used as a perfume ingredient. There are also many different kinds of Lavender, including Spike Lavender Oil and Lavandin Oil, sometimes taken from other plants (like Mentha citrata).

The major distinction among the three oils mentioned is in their relative contents of linalyl acetate, linalool, 1,8-cineole, and camphor. The spread of these four important volatiles determines the price, who can buy it, and where and how it might be used. For more information on these aspects, see my book titled The Magical And Ritual Use Of Perfumes (and how to blend oils).

As you can see, this is a more detailed aspect of marketing which must be considered when selecting a specific crop, and why you might want (or not) to consider its cultivation as an alternative crop in your overall farm program. Most of these oils can be easily taken via steam distillation, commonly used for other Mint Oils.

I plan to be at the October conference, and would be happy to discuss some of these details more fully at that event. How about an "eatable wildflower salad combo" type cottage industry? Actually, the oil in Lavender can be somewhat duplicated with the hybrid Orange Mint (Mentha citrata), with a leaf yield up to 4X that of Lavender flowers per acre. Lavender is nice to grow, but still not yet profitable for the small farm.

At some point, I plan to build "folders" on each crop or topic, so that they might read as a FAQ - in this case, on the market considerations of Lavender. I have also created a detailed Technical Crop Report on how to propagate, grow and harvest Lavender for the commercial herb trade. Those are like mini-books for the serious farmer, complete with disease and insect controls.

I also have in press a companion book to The Potential of Herbs As A Cash Crop titled Successful Farm Plans for North America. This new book will also have a CD-ROM edition, with many of these Technical Crop Reports, and an accounting generator for creating complex spread sheets for the small farm that would like to diversify.

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