Growing Pyrethrum
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Mohammed Baten
Posted on: October 2, 1998

Could you please inform us the expenses and return of growing Pyrethrum. We will definitely gain from your experience.

Some of the information you request is proprietary, and I was given only specific information. So, I will only be able to give brief overviews on this crop. Pyrethrum was first established as a bedding plant because we wanted to work with a special cultivar from Kenya which yielded up to 2.0% pyrethrins. Flowerheads were harvested via a special harvester created specifically for its harvest (Australian). That device did not work well, so I was given the task to develop something better.

While I was given no establishment and cultivation information on Pyrethrum, it was fairly easy to grow in most regions of Oregon and Arizona. My responsibility was to develop better forms of harvest and marketing. To that end, I assisted in the development of a flowerhead harvester prototype, built by the South Dakota School of Mines and Engineering (Robotics Department).

This device worked well with both Marigolds and Pyrethrum, but did not harvest other important flowerhead crops like Chamomiles. To that end what was needed was an optical scanning device to set the cutting knives with more precision. I have a video of the device harvesting Marigolds which I plan to bring to the October Richters Commercial Herb Growing Conference near Toronto.

Currently the device is being used in Arizona for the harvest of Pyrethrums. The market for this crop is more extensive and could become even larger with availability. Current prices from Kenya for the flowerhead start at $4.00/lb., FOB. The yields per acre were in excess of 800 lbs. per cutting, with at least two cuttings per season.

The two primary buyers were Safer Corp. in Victoria, B.C. and Johnson & Johnson in Kansas City, MO. Both form an extract to add value in it’s use with Rotenone. Pyrethrins cause insects to scatter, thereby making other insecticides more active in their kill ratio. Using Pyrethrum flowerheads in this manner made it very expensive for use.

I discovered that another type of market could be established as a dried powder to many of the more local insect control businesses, who would use it as a dusting powder for warehousing and other smaller commercial ventures. Unfortunately, it’s availability and current cost prohibited it’s use in this manner. That is why I always felt there was excellent potential for this crop for the small farm. What was missing was the harvesting device.

I’m sorry I can’t give any more information, as this is the limited of my background on this crop. I do have the ability to discover more detail as an outside consultant, and plan to do so with Richters at a more appropriate date.

[N.B. Limited quantities of Certified Kenyan Pyrethrum are available from Richters. -Ed.]

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