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| Lavender and/or Herb Plans for Southwestern Ohio |
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Kim Benz
Posted on: December 10, 2006
My sister and my family visited the Pacific Northwest and were enchanted by the herb and lavender farms. We have a 110 acre tree farm that has about 25 acres of rolling fields. Our woods are filled with all types of wild flowers and ferns. Our fields have not had crops planted in them for 10-15 years but are regularly cut for hay. We are straddling a gravel pit so drainage is not a problem and for the most part our soil is very good and ranges from slightly alkaline to acid.
Here’s my question. We want to develop 5-15 acres into a lavender and/or herbs for the benefit of our families and community. We do not really want to make money but we do not want to lose it either. We don’t want to have to "baby" the crops but are willing to put in the effort to get something established. What herb or lavender crops do you recommend for sw Ohio that might fit that bill. Also could you recommend a book that might help us through the thinking on this and develop a multi-year plan.
You came to the right place, and you asked the right questions. While I haven’t written about lavender in more than one year, I have written extensively on it. I have even grown 47 acres myself (in the past). I am available to construct a basic farm plan, and help set up systems.
For books, "I am your huckleberry." - Doc Holliday/Tombstone. First read my book "The Potential of Herbs As A Cash Crop" (available from Richters). You also may want to go to www.herbfarminfo.com ("Getting Started").
With what I know now, I wouldn’t recommend Lavender as a cash crop, but it is fun to grow, and makes wonderful topiaries. Imagine your farm having an "Edward Scissor-hand"-like statues of various animals.. You can topiary it (somewhat) like Rosemary, and in the right locations, grow quite large.
Only seven lavender farms currently successful in the US are "Bed-and-Breakfast"-like situations. The Lavender is for people to muse, while you sell cottage industries around them ("country store" theme). I have a great floral idea for a small demonstration farm. And, herbal coffee substitutes.
There are a number of lavenders, including special cultivars and hybrids. 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 The following is several paragraphs from my book (unpublished) on Lavender (Small Farm Series). My website is www.nwbotanicals.org, and has a number of useful articles on resources and marketing.
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."
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 that would be far more lucrative. Responding to your specific questions, Gunther’s 6-volume set on essential oils will give specific yields per acre, based on land situations:
There are three kinds of Lavender grown now for the commercial markets. Your form of Lavandin, also known as grosse Lavender, is the least desired and hence, produces less income
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Mill.) - True Lavender
Lavender (Lavandula latifolia Vill.) - Spike Lavender
Lavender (Lavandula hybrida Reverchon) - Lavandin, or ‘Grosso’ Lavender
World Market: 22,000 acres, all species (total acreage and farmgate revenues for all plant parts and derivatives)
North American Market: 2,600 acres, all species (total acreage and farmgate revenues for all plant parts and derivatives)
Prices: Flowers: i) dried: $4.50/lb; ii) organic: $4.85/lb. Oil: $20.50/lb (French); $14.50/lb (Spike); $10.50/lb (Lavandin).
Future prospects: Prices: same; Market Size: same; Reason why: cheaper sources create surpluses, so markiet remains fixed.