Crops for Poor, Dry Soil
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: David Young
Posted on: July 28, 1998

I have large portion of an acre that currently is weeds and hay. I am considering turning it into a commercial venture of some kind. What type of herbs would suit poor, dry soil, and be commercially viable in our part of the country? I do grow some lavender, which does quite well here.

I have responded to this type of question before, and would recommend you review those responses as well as this. Eventually we will "batch" these responses into a FAQ called General Questions about getting started.

I have written previously [see "Processing, Production and Formulating" in the Commercial Growing and Marketing section of the "Q&A" area] that selecting crops for specific regions of Canada must take into account a number of variables. Those first considerations are outlined in that document, and should be reviewed.

I was asked a similar question for Argentina [see "Herb Farming in Argentina"]. I outline some important first principles which must be addressed when approaching aromatic plants for alternative crop selections.

With that background and previous responses, I note that you apparently are from Vancouver Island (specifically Victoria). This is where my Lodge is, and I am quite familiar with this beautiful Island. With my love for the sea, I could someday even consider calling it a second "home."

Victoria, B.C. has one of the two largest buyers in the world for Dalmatian Pyrethrum Flowers [Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium (Trevir) Vis.]. Just north of Victoria (toward the ferries to Vancouver) is Safer Corporation’s main headquarters. The other primary buyer is Johnson & Johnson (KS). Both currently buy from Kenya, but would prefer domestic sources.

This flower is the source of the best-known natural insecticide, pyrethrum, and is used by all COG (Certified Organically Grown) programs. The volumes are significant, and it will grow well in your region, although Arizona might offer some competition. What would need to make it viable is a simple Flowerhead Harvester.

I have a working prototype now being used in Arizona for this very purpose. With the addition of a laser optical scanning system, it could even be used to harvest Chamomile Flowerheads. This is a far more difficult product to harvest. It was designed and built by the South Dakota School of Mines and Engineering, Robotics Dept. to work Marigolds for the poultry markets.

I understand that a budget has been generated to actually build a prototype for Canadian study in Saskatoon, but they have not yet formally asked me for access to my device. I supervised 80 acres of cultivated Pyrethrum for eight years, and explored several technologies before I settled into the current prototype.

Other dryland crops would include Baby’s Breath and related wildflowers for the dried floral trade. B.C. has a Dutch Auction House in Vancouver, and one of the nine largest floral buyers in the world. From my perspective, the herb trade includes "Foods, Drugs, Cosmetics, and Dried Flowers." I’m now even interested in specialized Mushroom productions in the forests.

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