Thinking About Growing Herbs in Kansas
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Jeff and Melissa Delimont
Posted on: September 13, 1999

My wife and I have 23 acres of good Kansas farm ground. We have been thinking about growing herbs for sale to buyers such as yourselves. We were wondering if you could provide us with some of your requirements for specific herbs and if possible what herbs you feel is in the most demand.

I should begin to address your question by stating that the entire botanical trade is probably less than 2% (in revineues) of the entire agricultural market. With this fact, in some instances there are too many farmers cultivating the same crops. This causes further repercussions in that limited marketplace, and creates strains where they are not needed. This is why herb and spice crops are considered to have limited, niche markets, well-suited for cottage industry development.

There are some definite rules in selecting these crops, but I think the most important one is "diversification." Rather than select one crop, you should diversify and try at least 12. Learn how to grow each, and as markets ebb and flow (change), rotate specific one into larger or less production. This stabilizes your cash flow.

I think your region of the country is well-suited to produce Comfrey Leaf (for animal food supplements), but the through-put is limited to available artificial drying systems. Of course, cottage industries, where the crop has some "value added" prior to leaving the farm always insures better incomes. This might even include Grains and Flowers for the very large and growing floral trade.

There are numerous ways to determine "what will grow" on the specific land. I think the noxious weeds currently growing on your land in question will tell you more about the soils and weather than any plug culture or chemistry study which might be made. Certainly how the weeds spread give a B-Horizon story every bit as accurate as aerial photos from S.C.S. (Soil Conservation Service) or similar agencies. S.C.S. will also tell you what has been depleted and what amendments are needed to bring soil back to health and good tilth.

Selecting crops for your Region must take into account a number of other variables. This would include soil types, available capital equipment, and "future" market needs (not just the current trends). It would not make sense to cultivate a seed like Coriander if you did not have a combine available. Further, you also must be sure that there will be a growing market ("futures") for this crop when it does come into production.

Custom farming is where you may not necessary own the needed capital equipment but it is available from the community. Many farmers like to use their equipment on other crops than their own, generating further incomes on the use of their equipment. Often many of their crops require specialized equipment for harvesting, drying, and processing.

I offer Business Plans for the beginning farmer, trying to take into account their soils, capital equipment, and future market needs. Since I have grown many different crops in previous years (or "incarnations"), I have amassed a number of detailed photos on equipment used and field production protocols. Richters plans to put a number of these slides together as "show and tell" books for those who want more detail on how to establish and cultivate various crops.

Finally, it is prudent to also consider what you are currently growing because this suggests what farm machinery you already have available for use. It makes no sense to suggest a seed crop (like Dill) if you do not have a combine (or available for use). I have made up a list of variable I use when selecting specific crops for a field when creating a Farm Plan (business plan).

Farm Plans include nine technical crop reports and additional information on several other crop alternatives. The report includes timetables, spirochetes with anticipated costs, incomes, volumes, markets, seed sources, expansion programs, projected gross receipts, etc. Recommendations and cottage industry suggestions will be based on current or future market trends, and your resources.

When you order a farm plan, we need to know the following:

(1) List of capital equipment;

(2) What equipment is in the neighborhood which might be leased;

(3) Detailed soil descriptions of the land in question for use from SCS;

(4) Crop and spray history of the soils in question;

(5) How much money do you have to begin this venture;

(6) What grows well in your garden;

(7) Goals and direction;

(8) A video of your farm and resources (or photographs).

Over the last twenty years I have also put together a number of Technical Crop Reports, which include marketing and processing requirements. These will also become available (upon demand) from Richters and other publishing efforts. As you may know, I also have a number of titles in print specific for the beginning herb farm. All are available through Richters.

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