Thinking of Switching to Herb Farming in Saskatchewan
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Garry Richards
Posted on: April 2, 2000

My wife and I would like to farm here in Saskatchewan. My family has always grain farmed but we are looking at diversifying into herbs, including medicinal herbs.

We want to grow some test plots this spring. Would you suggest possibly 5-10 non root crops that we could try growing, preferably by direct seeding?

We strongly recommend that new herb farmers enter the business gradually; so, we agree very much with your plan to grow some test plots first. Headstrong farmers that have jumped in without adequate preparation and learning. Not only does it take a few years to understand the equipment and methodology herbs require, it takes that time to establish your marketing. Unlike many other crops, herbs do not have open markets -- much depends on buyers who come to trust you and your product. So, give yourself a 2-3 year period to evaluate the potential of herbs. And don’t quit you "day job" yet!

Crops that are know to do well in Saskatachewan include caraway, coriander, milk thistle, dill, borage, fenugreek, and lobelia. There are many more that could be considered. A big limitation is your desire for direct-seeded crops because many herbs need to be started in plugs first and then transplanted in the field. This is because of the short season in Saskatchewan and because of weed control. There are not a lot of options available for growers for chemical weed control for herb crops. Lobelia, and perhaps milk thistle, would have to be started in plugs, for example.

What about growing organic crops on a larger scale using traditional large dryland farming methods? Would you suggest anything like that? Thank you for your time and information on your web page.

The market for organic herbs is very bright right now. Weed control is perhaps the biggest challenge for organic growers. Current weed control strategies inevitably require some hand labour, although those farmers who manage to find ways to reduce the manual labour to a minimum are the ones that are doing the best. In many cases there are no "best practices" established yet and farmers are still experimenting with a wide variety of methods. Remember, many herbs have not been in human cultivation for long, having been gathered from the wild until recently.

P.S.- We have heard you have done some work with orphanages in Africa. Is this true? My wife and I have just returned from medical mission work in Kenya. We would love to hear a bit about your work.

No, I have not done any work with orphanages in Africa. But I have worked with a herbal clinic in a small village in Ghana. I am interested in helping to stregthen rural herbal medicine in undeveloped areas because, in my opinion, one of the greatest threats to mankind is the loss of thousands of years of traditional knowledge about herbs. I am profoundly impressed with how powerful some of the traditional herb medicines are, most of which are totally undocumented. The trouble is that much of this knowledge is being lost because the great herbalists are dying without passing on the knowledge to younger generations because of massive cultural changes underway due to the influence of modern western culture. I have personally learned of potent traditional medicines for diabetes, irritable bowel disease, migraine headache and much more in the little village in Ghana. How much more knowledge is out there waiting to be discovered by modern medicine is probably vast -- yet we are losing it irretrievably every day! It is my hope some day to establish a fund to assist the Ghanaian and other rural clinics to preserve traditional herbal knowledge. It would be great to find ways to encourage younger people to take up herbalism and to expand the exposure of traditional remedies around the world.

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