Lavender in Guatemala
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Alexis De Vreese
Posted on: September 20, 2002

With great interest I read you Q&A section on your website. I have a small farm in Guatemala, Central America, and have always been attracted to lavender. Part of my family is from the south of France. On the farm I would like to try growing lavender for honey production and for dried flowers (potpourri) for the local market. I think oil production will be to expensive to start.

The farm is located around 900 to 1000 meters above sealevel with the following caracteristics: average yearly temperature: 24 C (max. 31C, min. 17C) average relative humidity: 80% average rainfall: 1,600mm average wind: 2.5 km/h

Do you consider my idea feasable and if so which variety should I look into. Any info from your part would be highly appreciated.

PS. Do I look for your answer on your website or do you send it directly to my e-mail?

It is nice to meet you, and thank you the nice compliment. Lavender is a hard one to complete as a cash crop. The French have really got their systems down. I tried 42 acres on the Klamath River in 1992, with an experienced Dutch grower. We simple could not make the costs competitive in the oil business (extraction). We ended up selling it for dried flower stems.

The only 7 lavender farms currently successful in the US are bed-and-breakfast situations. The Lavender is for people to muse and they sell cottage industries around them. I really like it because you can topiary it (somewhat) like Rosemary. Normally, I send the e-mail while Conrad post it for others to read.

There are all kinds of Lavender, including special cultivars and hybrid. Selecting the right one often can niche you into a market, where it is grown for specific end uses. The following is several paragraphs from my book (unpublished) on Lavender. For other books, see www.herbfarminfo.com. My website is www.nwbotanicals.org

Lavender is fun to grow, but has 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. However, what do you plan to market? The flower petal is the largest market, 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. Or they make oil 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"). Now you have a controlled Dutch system, again leaving minimal profit margins. The only way I’ve seen domestic growers make it profitable is by using it in a cottage industry (on site) program, where it is an essential part of the "package."

End comment, I would pass on growing Lavender for commercial sales. It is very nice to grow in and around other crops. Even using is as a companion plant sill help control specific insects. I could think of a number of crops which would be far more lucrative. The two primary from Guatemala include Cardamom and Lemon Grass. The Lemon Grass is very easy to grow.

There are a series of othere spices which might be worth your study. They include Ginger, Turmeric, Vanilla Bean, Pepper, Cinnamon and Cassia, Nutmegs, Clove, Pimento, and Chilies. Coriander was not mentioned because it is in surplus right now. Small quantities of Lemon Grass, cut for specific Tea Manufacturers might be what I would do first. That’s straight money, and a cottage industry where you get to add value.

And then, of course, there are the endless local variations like Maca, Horny Goat Weed, and exotics like Neurolaena lobata (allegedly for hypoglycemia). This is like the soup of the day, and markets are difficult at best. You best direction today would be to focus on something you can make (value added). Right now, I’m doing roasted and TBC Dandelion Root (Starbucks). Don’t sell raw materials, make something with it, or process it further for broader market options.

Sorry I can’t be more positive regarding Lavender. If you want to write me, I can perhaps develop a farm plan for your consideration. I’ve done some business in Guatemala and think you have a wonderful place to live. How else can I help you?

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