Farming 1000 Acres in Iowa: Need Advice on Starting with Herbs
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Paul Miller
Posted on: February 25, 2001

My name is Paul Miller and I belong to a farming family in Northwest Iowa. For years my father, uncle, great uncle, and two brothers have farmed 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans. The farm, with corn and soybean production, has been just holding its own, we’re not getting ahead any. Recently, we have been searching for alternative crops to financially facilitate the farm better. The internet has led me to medicinal herbs, resulting in ordering and reading Medicinal Herbs: in the Garden, Field and Marketplace by Lee Sturdivant and Tim Blakley. After reading this book, I believe there is a medicinal herb option. I recently contacted the Frontier Natural Products Coop. in Norway, Iowa. They sent me material on different herb options and a sample production contract with all their requirements. This helped, but when I called them, I could not get to the right people for advice. So I am searching on the internet again tonight and I found your website and I’m hoping for your help.

What kind of medicinal herbs do you recommend in our situation? (Preferably a row crop herb; this is easy to cultivate)

We have 5 acres of alfalfa that has been down for 3 going on 4 years, that I believe could be certified organic. We will be turning 120 acres to alfalfa this spring as contracted feed to a local dairy for one year. Our land is very flat, deep top-soil, and black. Very productive land with no rock. All of our land has drainage tile dug in and buried to eliminate standing water and flooding. Good drainage! Northwest Iowa is classified as Zone 4 in temperature.

We are very good at farming, and will accommodate any need for organic farming. Even if we have to hire help for weeding and harvest. Our main concern, like most people, is will there be profit enough to justify the work for organic?

The first book you really want to read is The Potential of Herbs As A Cash Crop. This is published by Acres, USA (who also publishes my Native Plants of Commercial Importance) and is available from Richters.

The first step to any successful business plan is to first determine what it is that you want to do. Obviously you want to become a farmer in alternative agriculture. Today that is not enough. You must have a plan or goal toward what you want to have happen. I would recommend you start with my new book "Getting Started," found at

This outlines the important aspects necessary for any business plan to be successful. It also outlines specific ways to establish your crop selections. But, before even this is done, it must be remembered that this industry is NOT a raw material supplier industry, but driven on cottage industries.

It is not the cheapest and best herbs grown that make money, but the consistent delivery of chemistry in some form of packaging. All those who make it in this industry do so via a product (like Indian Herbal Coffee). If the product is any good, the customer will come back for a second purchase. That is the ONLY way anyone makes a living in this industry.

The market is driven by availability. For example, you might produce an animal feed suppliment that causes a female dog to be more fertile for breeding. If the formula works, you will become successful. Of course, growing the material allows vertical integration and control of your quality (of chemistry delivered).

But, your money does not come from the quality of your farming, it comes from the delivery of your cottage industry. With that understanding, the selection of your crops is strictly based on your cottage industry idea. You must start with your idea, and that will dictate what crops yuou should cultivate, and which crops you should purchase from another source.

I can help you toward selecting a cottage industry idea, and then formulate a business plan around that. This is what I do under Farm Plans. This is a complete business plan, taking into account various factors, resources, and market situations. For more detail on what might be needed to get me started, visit my website at and check out Services (under OAK).

First things first, however. Start with your idea on what the public might want in the way of something "new" for the industry. That then dictates what you can (and cannot) grow on your farm.


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