St Johnswort Markets (Summer 1999)
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Jim Watson
Posted on: August 6, 1999

I am a farmer from Muleshoe, Texas. I am thinking about growing 650 acres of St. Johnswort for hypericin production. Do you know where a market for the dry bulk product would be? Where are the extraction plants located and do they need that product?

I strongly recommend you reconsider your large cultivation plans for SJW. Back in mid-June, I wrote that St. John’s Wort (SJW) herb is in deep supply right now (full inventories), with wild and cultivated domestic fields ready for harvest. That situation has not changed, and I personally am involved with several new fields which will be producing SJW for the year 2000.

Here is the problem. Last year the domestic market demand was almost 1,000 ton from domestic sources. This led a number of foreign sources to put it into cultivation for export into North America. This year, the demand will be only 300 ton, less than one third that of last year. And, of course, many cultivated fields are now showing their first harvests (new sources).

The preferred cultivar is the Topaz variety, developed several years ago in Europe. It take two years to show a first harvest, with first year yields averaging about 1,800 lbs. per acre. A 650 acre venture would produce about 1,100,000 lbs., or one-sixth of the current domestic needs. With more than 2,000 acres currently under cultivation (and unknown wildcrafting sources), where are you going to sell this surplus crop?

Export opportunities do exist, but the competition has become fierce with this specific crop. My strong recommendation is that you reconsider the amount of acreage with SJW, and diversify with other crops with good futures. I am available as an outside consultant to help select those alternative crops, taking into advantage you specific needs and resources.

To address other aspects of your question, the primary buyers are the larger pharmaceutical houses. Most of them have already formed strategic alliances with wildcrafters and regional growers. The primary problem with deliveries always comes back to the hypericin levels. Further, most of the larger buyers want a COG tag for advertising and their label.

The SJW crop is already in for this year, and most buyers are dropping their prices because of surpluses and competitive quality. Drying this crop requires some special equipment, and larger volumes dictate more sophisticated technologies. With overall prices dropping, surpluses not being sold, the value of this crop to the farm has decidedly become questionable.

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