Herb Production in South Dakota
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Kennley Wright
Posted on: February 16, 2006

I’m a small farmer in South Dakota who currently raises mostly alfalfa and grass hay 300 acres plus 200 acres crops. I have always had an interest in herb production and wondering if there are any areas of need where I might be able to enter the marketplace.

One of my very first farm ventures back in 1984 was in Buffalo, SD. Where are you near in that state? I remembered the water to be almost white when it came out of that ground. I presume you are un-irrigated? Could you go drip irrigation if it made financial sense? We grew marigold near SD School of Mines & Engineering (for a grant to build a flower-head harvester prototype).

Dry-land farming has fewer options. Selecting the right crops takes more than 30 years of guessing, with background in both marketing and previous mistakes. You might start with "Getting Started," at www.herbfarminfo.com. My website may also have a few extra points for consideration at http://www.nwbotanicals.org/oak/altagri/a_a_index.html

I plan to add to that site shortly with more than 300 technical crop reports, similar to that found at www.herbfarminfo.com, time and life willing. I have learned how to take my older documents and quickly convert them into PDFs. They will not be as detailed or as finely edited as The Small Farm Series, but will reflect my 30 years working with each crop.

You really need to hire a consultant to help determine which crops might be best now, not just from your interest and sense of what is important. Conrad Richter tries to guess ahead of time by making specific seed available for the farmer’s requests. I guess that means he needs a crystal ball even before you or I.

India is now leading the world in published literature on the cultivation and markets of most herbs and spices. China is running a close second to Canada. The US is all but basically out of that game now, due to the terrible drop in markets these last six years.

All of my best farmers, many with 14 to 16 years of experience, have dropped out of that industry -- basically with no markets to sell on speculation. The need this next year for 60,000 new farms is going to break our backs to third world competitors. And, who is going to train them? Farming requires skills in usually more than four fields, and that mostly had to come from childhood and growing up with that environment. Even the Amish have felt this bite.

And, predicated on where you decide to farm in South Dakota will dictate which other crops might want to be selected. The second part of that equation is to make sure you don’t need different equipment for each crop, but select those which take advantage of your local and regional "Appropriate Technologies" (Canadian term).

I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, but what you ask is really quite broad and require someone who is given your investment amounts available, land situation and habitat, and where the markets are going in that period. You realize, of course, that what you need to choose is not what is sellable now, but what will be sellable in three years, when you finally do have something to sell. Start with "Getting Started." Marketing resources are listed at my website.

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