Herbs for Profit on Small Acreage
Answered by: Rick Miller
Question from: Barbara Grinter
Posted on: February 04, 2010

I am interested in alternative crops for our region. I live in Grand Junction, CO where our summers are hot/dry and the soil tends to be alkaline. We currently sustain grapes, fruit trees and recently a small lavender farm.

I have 5 acreas of irrigated pasture which I would like to grow perennial and annual crops. I would appreciate your opinion on what plants to experiment with.

Crops selections for this kind of a habitat and soil types precludes some of the more basic options. For intercropping with grapes, an English Thyme is often now used. Not only will it help kill the thrip and nematode in these soils, it sometimes also helps to increase bricks of sugar in certain grapes.

The following is that list of crops recommended for specific markets and cottage industry opportunities of the South-West. I have grouped them into specific categories.

CROP RECOMMENDATIONS

SPICE FLORALS - This is a new way to get started. When beginning feasibility studies, smaller acreage can be put up as dried florals, and sold to the mass market outlets (Vons, Safeway, Food Giant, etc.) While the markets are limited, this offers an alternative to the produce trade. (Same buyer, most supermarkets). A list of crops include most spices and some herbs.

BASIC FLORALS - The advantages of these crops are seen in the concept of "adding value" to small acreages. One thing a farm has to sell is labor, especially when it is valued at $40/hour. This is why many small farm enter into basic floral production as part of their overall farm program.

ACORN - This product grows in wild abundance throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon as an unrecognized natural resource. The primary buyer is Korea, using more than 1,000,000 lb. each year as a primary food supplement in their diet. Price range from $3.25/lb. to more than $4.50/lb. The product can be harvested by using tarps and a tree knocker or tractor. Newer marketing directions include capped acorns as an ingredient for potpourri.

BABY’S BREATH - is another weed with excellent dried floral markets. The Japanese have waited more than ten years for surplus to export. There has never been enough to even consider these markets. It grows best on poor, rocky hillsides.

BEAR GRASS - This is a standard in the floral trade, with annual sales in excess of $10,000,000. One Pacific Northwest Company alone exported in excess of 1,000,000 lb. to Holland. The product can be easily hot-dip dyed and sold as a value-added forest product, using left-over dyes from evergreen production. It can be grown in open forests and be easily harvested with machinery.

CHINA POPPY - This is now grown extensively in the U.S. for the floral trade. The poppy stalks have to be picked by hand, but current floral demands reach more than 2,000,000 heads last year. It is often dyed and sleeved.

EUCALYPTUS - This is a fast-growing floral, especially if it has been preserved with glycerin. One farm in California actually moves more than 6 truckloads per week, during harvest season. It is extremely frost sensitive, but grows so quickly, it is an excellent alternative. Preferred varieties include the dwarf- and spiral-types. Larger bulk markets use it as a pharmaceutical, but most now comes from Portugal.

LUPIN - This crop has become very popular with seed companies as an ornamental. There are also some potential growing markets for this as a seed in Europe, the primary buyer: Dutch. It is very easy to grow.

MARIGOLD - The Tagetes variety is grown as a poultry feed supplement. Its dye colors the meat and make the yoke orange. Marigold flowerheads need a yet-to-be developed "flowerhead harvester." It can be picked for profit by hand for potpourri, but this market is limited, and competition comes from Mexico.

PODS - This is a new market with excellent futures and diverse options, including cottage industry development. The list of dried pods from wildflowers, wild grasses and weeds is quite extensive. The obvious new direction would be dying and preserving these as a cottage industry.

ROSE BUDS - This is a new and fast-growing floral product, especially with freeze-dried products. Farming rootstock is also profitable for the horticultural trade, the rose by-products make this a very lucrative, and labor-intensive alternative. It requires good irrigation and hot climates, for best productions.

ROSEMARY - This is a major spice, with side markets in such items as potpourris. It can be harvested with a forage chopper, but will need to be kiln dried for the best oil and color. The needles want to be separated (usually by air) from the stalk-like stems. Once the needles are dry, they separate quite easily.

WORMWOOD - This is a new crop for the U.S. Government as a major pharmaceutical, and is now classified as an an anti-tumor cancer agent. It should grow very well in most regions, and can be put up as a hay-type crop (sun-cure). Look toward growing extract markets in the future.

MINTS - Various mints can be grown for the herb tea companiesThis requires a swather and then combine pick-up, to separate the leaf from the stem. As a market niche, these crops can be quite diverse, since most crops considered as spices are also mints. These are the crops with square stems (like Catnip and Basil). They also make excellent florals, due to their colorful flowers and large stems. Suggested crops include

BERGAMOT - Another crop which grows well in very cold regions. While primarily markets have used this as a source of some oils, I recommend you grow this one for the potpourri markets.

CATNIP - A typical mint-type crop which requires limited irrigation. It can be put up as a hay-type crop, or combined like peppermint for the leaf. Limited markets include the pet toy industry.

LEMON VERBENA - This frost-sensitive shrub needs to be cultivated in semi-tropical regions. Used primarily as an important potpourri ingredient, it also finds use in salads and prepared foods. The leaf can be separated with a combine under special conditions.

LICORICE MINT - Somewhat fragile, licorice mint is often grown as an annual rather than perennial. It is an excellent dried floral, and the leaf is also now marketed as anew tea ingredient. This requires a combine, similar to peppermint and spearmint. The oil is rarely extracted.

ORANGE MINT - This mint contains linalool and linalyl acetate (lavender), and is marketed as an oil to the perfume industry. New markets indicate it might be used as a leaf product for the herb tea markets. It is quite fragrant, and could be harvested somewhat like peppermint and spearmint leaf.

PENNYROYAL - Grows wild in many states, including Oregon and New York. While used mostly for the oil, as an insecticide, new markets include the floral trade. It is quite beautiful in full bloom, and the American varieties grow tallest (for these markets). It is poisonous to cattle, so many states consider it a noxious weed.

BURDOCK - A noxious weed which likes to grow in cornfields. Its root is worth 3x the yield from corn in the same field. It usually takes two years before full production is achieved.

CHIA - This will grow in semi-arid lands with warmer climates. It is harvested with a combine and then recleaned with seed sifters. The seed is often used in numerous health food products as a source of "energy," including herbal coffee formulas.

CHICORY - Often classified as a noxious weed, this crop is now cultivated for coffee substitute markets. It is harvested with potato harvesting machinery, or plows designed to harvest root crops. The root can be sun-cured.

DANDELION - After the second year, roots can be taken as a by-product for the coffee-substitute/additive and other cottage industry markets. This should be a fairly easy crop to cultivate.

FENNEL - Similar to anise seed, unwanted species variations grow wild in many regions. It is easy to cultivate and the markets are quite extensive, especially if a domestic source of supply can be established. It needs a combine and further seed cleaning for current markets.

FENUGREEK - This is a perfect crop for stickier soils, those which have begun to clay-pan. The seed is combined for the maple syrup markets, while the herb is often marketed as a produce. It is used as a perfect crop to rotate a field with that which was previously used for roots. It grows like an alfalfa.

GINGER ROOT - This crops grows well throughout Hawaii, limited regions of southern California, and parts of Florida. Its primary markets are for food and cosmetic fragrance. The "yellow" ginger tend to be more flavorful, while there is a tradition in the use of "white" ginger for the cosmetic industry.

HOREHOUND - This is a hay-type crop which has primarily been marketed as a flavoring ingredient. It also holds great futures as a cottage industry for such items as candy and soap. Now foraged in great quantities.

LEMON GRASS - This is a semi-tropical grass which can be grown in most regions of the Southwest like alfalfa. Hawaii has the problem of wilt and other fungus which often prohibits it’s export from the Islands. Current domestic markets are more than 400 ton just for the tea industry, with citrol and other volatile oils being commercially important.

SESAME SEED - This crop grows well in Texas, and has a history of production throughout the Midwest, especially Illinois and Michigan. China has not produced their usual quotas over the last several years, due to extensive flooding in those regions of cultivation. It requires a combine.

NATIVE PLANT CROPS - Many high-plaines native products, sold as herbs and medicinal plants, originally were produced in Europe. With the fall of communism and the Soviet Bloc, many of these products are no longer available from Europe. And, Federal restriction, like FDA, for example, now inhibits the import of such drug plants as Ma Huang (Ephedra). Current programs include foraging these crops from native stands. If a program were established to actually farm these crops in their natural habitat, using light machinery and farm practices, many of these natural stands could be developed and enhanced with lower labor costs and higher profitability.

ARNICA - A traditional medicinal used in most liniments. Volumes have been limited to availability. This can be easily cultivated and harvested using traditional hay equipment.

BLESSED THISTLE - A nice annual thistle with good local markets in the region. Used to make certain alcoholic beverages, and other food markets. Put it up like a hay crop.

BLOODROOT - This grows well in northern woods of the Midwestern states, especially as a forest farming project. It takes about three years before full production is achieved, and requires full shade for best growth. It can be harvested with rototiller-like root harvesters.

CATNIP - A typical mint-type crop which requires limited irrigation. It can be put up as a hay-type crop, or combined like peppermint for the leaf. Limited markets include the pet toy industry.

CHAPARRAL - This high desert plant contains nor-hidydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) and the related lignans. It is theorized that any anticancer effect of chaparral tea is due to the ability of NDGA to block cellular respiration. There is some difficulty in harvesting this plant because what the market wants is a leaf. The leaf is removed from the stem when both are dry.

MORMON TEA - Also known as Desert Tea, or Mormon Tea, this is a frequent substitute for the Chinese Ma Huange. While chemistries are slightly different, this is a frequently used as an ingredient in "over-the-counter" diet pills, and other "legal highs." It is a stimulant and brochial dialator, and is used in large quantities in the pharmaceutical trade.

NETTLE - This grows best up against a tree-line or edging a lake or river - partial shade. It can be cultivated and harvest much like a hay-type crop (i.e. catnip). It must be cut in the herbaceous stage so it can be sold as an herb. Perfect forest-farm project.

WILD INDIGO - This root crop is well-suited to the Midwest forests and Oregon. The root is used as a dye (501 blue jeans), and can be grown in forests that small machinery might be used. It is harvested in the seventh year, and seed is collected for new plantings.

WORMWOOD - This is a new crop for the U.S. Government (Army) as a major pharmaceutical. It should grow very well in most regions, and can be put up as a hay-type crop (sun-cure). Look toward growing extract markets in the future.

YELLOW DOCK - A troublesome weed, it is quite popular in homeopathic markets. Not only used as a red dye for the wool industries, it is also used as an abrasive dentifrice in some manufacturing of toothpastes. It is easily disked from overgrazed soils.

FLOWER-HEAD HARVESTER PROJECT - projections 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.

CHAMOMILE (GERMAN) - This annual variety requires a special flowerhead harvester. There is now a working prototype available for limited studies. It is critical that no stem is harvested with the flowerhead. Stems have a bitter agent not acceptable with this crop.

CHAMOMILE (ROMAN) - This variety is used almost extensively as an oil extraction from steam distillation. This means that the precision requirements for flowerhead harvesting is not as critical. You should harvest this crop approximately two times on unirrigated fields and more than five times on those with moderate irrigation .

FEVERFEW - This is a new market, and growing, as an aspirin substitute. One way to orient this crop is via harvesting the flowerheads for the potpourri markets, then putting the rest of it up as a hay-type crop for the pharmaceutical uses. It is also sold as a dried floral in large quantities, and there is also a growing seed market for this crop.

MARIGOLD - The Tagetes variety is grown as a poultry feed supplement. Its dye colors the meat and make the yoke orange. Marigold flowerheads need a yet-to-be developed "flowerhead harvester." It can be picked for profit by hand for potpourri, but this market is limited, and competition comes from Mexico.

PYRETHRUM - This is a form of chrysanthemum which is also one of the best natural insecticides known. It is used in almost every household product, including such items as Raid and Black Flag, and is considered to be an "organic insecticide." It is harvested with a yet-to-be discovered "flowerhead harvester." Even picking the flowerheads by hand is profitable.

RED CLOVER - Excellent grower in your area, the market needs a domestic source of red clover flowerheads (for potpourris, pharmaceutical markets.

OTHER HIGHLY RECOMMENDED CROPS - The following crops all look to be well-suited to the soils and regional weather variables for the Mid-West. Some require a major commitment in dehydration and other processing facilities. Complete prospectuses, like "A Processing Facility for Botanical Alternatives," are available.

BASIL - This annual requires low water and makes excellent cottage industry projects for the winter months. It can be used to make vinegar and pestos (frozen) for mass-markets.

BLACK CARAWAY SEED - (Nigella) - This caraway seed is used exclusively in the German communities as a substitute for poppy. It grows wild in most western regions of the U.S. and can be easily cultivated for combine harvesting.

CHIVE - While the garlic and onion markets are well surplused, this type of dehydrated onion green has extensive demand in most gourmet restaurants and other cottage industries, like prepared foods. It is very easily grown and harvested. The problem lies in cutting and dehydrating it for appearance. This may need some form of dicing/slicing machine used for carrots and celery.

COMFREY - While the market for the leaf in the food industry is quite limited, the markets as a cattle-food supplement are quite extensive, especially in the dairy business. The problem comes in attempting to handle this product green. While profit margins are potentially available, there are some machinery requirements.

DANDELION - There are some extensive markets for the leaf, now estimated at more than 10,000 acres (as an herbal chewing tobacco substitute). It is almost impossible not to grow this crop well. Since the leaf is considered a by-product, the production tables do not include overhead, as they are covered in root production.

DILL - This annual requires low water and makes excellent cottage industry projects for the winter months. Dill flowerheads (Dill Weed) often makes excellent florals, and during the canning season many larger mass-market stores can sell more than one acre of fresh produce.

LOVAGE - This is a primary fragrance material, used in cosmetics and as a food additive. It is currently cultivated in France, Belgium, and most Soviet Bloc countries. It is usually cut for an essential oil from steam distillation. Watch for wilt, it should be rotated every third year.

LUPIN - This crop has become very popular with seed companies as an ornamental. There are also some potential growing markets for this as a seed in Europe, the primary buyer: Dutch. It is very easy to grow.

MARJORAM - A major spice, cultivated primarily in France and Greece, this crop is used extensively as oregano. Since it is not hardy, it is best treated as an annual (except Arizona). Weed control will be the primary problem with its cultivation because it is a slow grower. 3 harvests are available per year.

OREGANO - This is a primary spice, used extensively in pizza, the fastest growing "fast-food" market in the U.S. It is almost exclusively imported and Turkish sources are recently in shortages. It will need dehydration.

PARSLEY - Last year, more than 10K tons was used just in the restaurant trade as a fresh garnish alone. Used in soup mixes and condiments, the estimated dried import of this crop is more than 4K ton. There will always be local markets for this product.

SAGE - This is a major meat packing spice, used to keep meats from rotting. It grows well in poor soils and little or no water. The best situations, however, include irrigation. The plant can be taken as a leaf in the 3rd year, once the initial wood stock has been trimmed to produce leaf.

SAVORY - Summer savory is a tender annual, while winter savor is hardy perennial. Used in many stew preparations, summer savory has a more delicate aroma and fragrance than does winter savory, thus it is also more popular in the marketplace. Summer savory prefers lighter soils than winter savory, and both like irrigation.

SESAME SEED - This crop grows well in Texas, and has a history of production throughout the Midwest, especially Illinois and Michigan. China has not produced their usual quotas over the last several years, due to extensive flooding in those regions of cultivation. It requires a combine.

TARRAGON - French varieties require cuttings. It prefers higher altitudes for the best oil production, although will grow almost anywhere. After the second year, the stalks can be harvested with the leaf when still in the herbaceous stage. Woody part should be cut back each year, like pruning.

THYME - A major genus of spice species, used in the flavor and food industries. It also has antioxidant properties. The herb is harvested when the plant is in full bloom, usually with two cuttings per season. It will need good drainage to produce well, and may need some mulching to prevent winter-kill. It can also be taken for oil via steam-distillation, and has numerous ornamental markets.

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