Choosing a Herb to Grow
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Michael Keen
Posted on: July 12, 1999

I am Michael Keen and live in south central Kentucky. I would like to know of any herbal plants that could be grown like tobacco in 1 to 5 acre cultivated fields. Many tobacco farmers here face a buy-out or choosing another cash crop due to the falling support price of tobacco; including myself and my 8 acres. Many farm lands are rich lime-based here in a good pH balance and relative higher humidity in the summer with 85-95 degrees and mild winters. Do you have any recommended herbs which would be ideal for south central Kentucky, and if so can you refer any buyers of such herbs I can contact to sell?

Kentucky has lots of options, but please don’t become like most "K-Mart Shoppers," following the "Blue Concourse." Several years ago, most of the tobacco growers in Canada all put in Echinacea purpurea to the point of surplus. Now they can’t give it away.

I have a number of farmers in your state who chose many of the native plants which grow wild for their new cultivations. This included goldenseal root, black cohosh Root, and other woodlot type crops.

There are some definite rules in selecting these crops, but I think the most important one is "diversification." Rather than select one crop, you should diversify and try at least 12. Learn how to grow each, and as markets ebb and flow (change), rotate specific one into larger or less production. This stabilizes your cash flow.

I’ve tried to use tobacco kilns to dehydrate comfrey Leaf (for animal food supplements), but the throughput is more limited than even a grain bin. Of course, cottage industries, where the crop has value added prior to leaving the farm always insures better incomes. This might even include grains and flowers for the very large and growing floral trade.

There are numerous ways to determine "what will grow" on the specific land. I think the noxious weeds currently growing on your land in question will tell you more about the soils and weather than any plug culture or chemistry study which might be made. Certainly how the weeds spread give a B-horizon story every bit as accurate as aerial photos from SCS or similar agencies. They will also tell you what has been depleted and what amendments are needed to bring soil back to health and good tilth.

Selecting crops for Kentucky must take into account a number of other variables. This would include soil types, available capital equipment, and "future" market needs (not just the current trends). It would not make sense to cultivate a seed like Coriander if you did not have a combine available. Further, you also must be sure that there will be a growing market ("futures") for this crop when it does come into production.

Custom farming is where you may not necessary own the needed capital equipment but it is available from the community. Many farmers like to use their equipment on other crops than their own, generating further incomes on the use of their equipment. Often many of their crops require specialized equipment for harvesting, drying, and processing.

I offer business plans for the beginning farmer, trying to take into account their soils, capital equipment, and future market needs. Since I have grown many different crops in previous years (or "incarnations"), I have amassed a number of detailed photos on equipment used and field production protocols. Richters of Canada plans to put a number of these slides together as "show and tell" books for those who want more detail on how to establish and cultivate various crops.

Over the last twenty years I have also put together a number of technical crop reports, which include marketing and processing requirements. These will also become available (upon demand) from Richters and other publishing efforts. As you may know, I also have a number of titles in print specific for the beginning herb farm. All are available through Richters.

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