Perennial Herb Crops in Wisconsin
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Ann Segal
Posted on: September 12, 2000

I am delving into the field of herbal farming for a future career. I am giving myself 5 years to have developed some kind of a successful operation from which to make my living. Thank-you for writing such a wonderfully informative book, "Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop". I also plan on attending the conference in November in Toronto.

If it wouldn’t be inconvenient I’d like a recommendation. I own 40 acres on an island in Wisconsin. It is I believe zone 4. I have had the soil tested, It ranges from 7.3 to 7.7 for pH. Most samples came back with the P around 150. K was very inconsistent ranging for 83 to 248 for 5 samples. It’s sort of a short growing season, Silty soil, Deer etc. What makes sense for me to try? I am thinking Lavender, Sage, Yarrow. I favor a perennial herb. Drying would be a bit of a challenge at this point. The land has about 32 tillable acres, the rest is woods. Has been dormant for at least a decade or more. I am interested in certifying organic. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for the very nice compliment regarding my work. Wisconsin can be a very beautiful place to live and grow herbs. I’m uncertain whether budgets will allow me to be in Toronto in November (stay tuned). When I left Army Intelligence, one of the original reasons I chose herb and spice farming was that I loved to travel. Don’t get to do that as much these days.

It take a good year (or more) to establish most perennials, but they are well worth that effort. While both Lavender and Sage offer future markets, Yarrow is not as much in demand and may offer some challenges in harvesting (the flowerheads). Dehydration can be done via a grain bin, or related on-site facilities.

COG [Certified Organically Grown] tags are well worth the effort, as this is the direction most markets are now preferring. I don’t have much to say about marketing raw materials anymore, as the industry has dropped off sharply in the last year. Where I see people making a living is when they make something with their product as a cottage industry business.

I could do a farm plan for you. This is a complete business plan, taking into account various factors, resources, and market situations. I know of at least three farms who make a decent living growing Lavender, as a destination resort (or via products made from the flowers). For more detail on what might be needed to get me started, visit my website at www.nw.net/ram and check out Services (under OAK).

You might even consider putting up the Sage and Lavender as dried florals in the Chicago markets. Your woodlot aspects are also very interesting, as I have a number of growers using their woods for such crops as Golden Seal and Mushrooms. It’s that time of year, and you should see what the land is offering in that regard right now. Fungus markets are growing very rapidly right now.

Testing the soil, by the way, is often a waste of time, as the soil changes dramatically from one point to another. Aerials help (soil maps), but are also left with too many questions. I have found that the best way to determine soil needs is by the way noxious weeds spread. Chuck Walters of Acres, USA, wrote a book on this subject, and is worth a read.

I hope these comments help offer direction. And, I look forward to any other way I might be able to help you decide what’s best for the land and market futures.

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