Red Clover Flowerheads
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Alan Perry
Posted on: August 15, 1999

Can you tell me something about Red Clover Blossoms used for potpourri? 1. How do you harvest? 2. What is the value? 3. Storage? 4. Packaging? 5. Other? 6. Possible Sales?

Red Clover is still being harvested by hand in Mexico. It enters the U.S. at about $4.50/lb., FOB, but the product is terrible. This means it has a lot of leaf, foreign items (like a hammer), and is riddled with bugs. Total volumes sold to North America is about 400 ton, and growing (demand).

Crimson Clover is brighter red in color, a taller Flowerhead, and grows at a uniform height. This means it is well-suited for mechanical harvesters. A prototype was made by Dan Dolan, Professor in Robotics, South Dakota School of Mines and Engineering. It worked well for Marigolds, and was taken down to Phoenix, Arizona, to experiment with Pyrethrum Flowers.

A model could be made from that first prototype, to include a laser scanning system to control knife cutting more precisely. I’ve written up a proposal on this new device, and how much it would effect the industry at large for mechanically-harvested flowerheads: "Crop Projections for Flower-Head Products" (1996).

The following projections have been made to determine the future economics in the harvest of flower-head products for the herb and spice trade. These are only estimates, based on 20 years of marketing these various crops. Some are new products which have never been previously available except by hand harvests. (All are 1996 projections.)

* Chamomile - German

Price: US$2.50-3.00/lb; Yield: 500 lbs/acre; World Use: 50,000 tons; U.S. Use: 5,000 tons; U.S. Acreage: 20,000 acres

* Chamomile - Roman

Price: US$1.50-3.00/lb; Yield: 500 lbs/acre; World Use: 20,000 tons; U.S. Use: 2,000 tons; U.S. Acreage: 10,000 acres

* Red Clover Flowers

Price: US$0.85-1.20/lb; Yield: 800 lbs/acre; World Use: 8,000 tons; U.S. Use: 400 tons; U.S. Acreage: 10,000 acres

* Marigold Flowers

Price: US$0.45-1.45/lb; Yield: 1,500 lbs/acre; World Use: 20,000 tons; U.S. Use: 2,000 tons; U.S. Acreage: 5,000 acres

* Pyrethrum Flowers

Price: US$2.00-4.00/lb; Yield: 500 lbs/acre; World Use: 50,000 tons; U.S. Use: 5,000 tons; U.S. Acreage: 0 acres

* Strawflower

Price: US$3.00-4.00/lb; Yield: 500 lbs/acre; World Use: ?; U.S. Use: 50 tons; U.S. Acreage: 500 acres

* Statice Flower

Price: US$2.00-3.50/lb; Yield: 800 lbs/acre; World Use: ?; U.S. Use: 100 tons; U.S. Acreage: 1,000 acres

* Pearly Everlasting

Price: US$2.50-3.50/lb; Yield: 500 lbs/acre; World Use: ?; U.S. Use: 20 tons; U.S. Acreage: 500 acres

* Nasturtium

Price: US$5.00-6.00/lb; Yield: 300 lbs/acre; World Use: ?; U.S. Use: 20 tons; U.S. Acreage: 1,000 acres

* Other flowers

Price: US$2.50-4.00/lb; Yield: 500 lbs/acre; World Use: ?; U.S. Use: 100 tons; U.S. Acreage: 1,000 acres

These projection indicate that more than 100,000 new acres of herb flower-head crops would be needed for full production by 1996, if a flower-head harvester was developed at this time. This type harvester would also make a number of new crops available for consumption.

I propose a project to facilitate the development of a mechanical harvester for harvesting many types of herbal products. The project would involve building a modified header harvest system, attachable to a John Deer-type swather to sever flower-heads from the plant stems and collect them into mobile containers for drying and further processing.

Working with a marketing consultant (like Northwest Botanicals, Inc.), the harvested products should be evaluated for quality before and after processing. The harvester would provide a means of increasing the capacity of domestic growers to produce more of these products and do it more efficiently. Cheaper harvest costs, increased volume of production, and more consistent supplies available would allow North American growers to compete more favorably with imported products.

The primary tractor should be a John Deere-type of draper-swather, with a belt conveyor to deliver cut product to a wagon being pulled from behind. A used tractor like this should cost about $3,000, plus a second belt conveyor modification of $2,000. The wagons should cost about $500 each, and the farmer will need at least two.

A budget for the development of a mechanical harvester for herb flowers is given as:

* Header Modifications: US$1,800.00

* Post Conveying System for Flowers: $1,000.00

* Trailer for Flowers: $500.00

* Crop - Seed & Fertilizer: $400.00

* Plot Maintenance: $400.00

* Expense (monitoring/travel): $200.00

* Marketing/Overhead: $200.00

Total Estimated Development Cost: $5,000.00

It is now estimated that more than 40 units could be sold within the first two years of production, with another 50 to 100 units within 5 years. A typical pyrethrum farm of 5,000 acres might want 3 units for the harvest. Most individual chamomile growers will only farm up to 200 acres.

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