Crop Recommendations for Southern Ontario
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Suzanne
Posted on: October 20, 2006

We are located in Southern Ontario sandy loam soil and are considering switching into herb production on a commercial basis. What recommendations do you have of the type of herbs to grow and where to market them?

We get asked about crop recommendations a lot but we are reluctant to recommend any specific crop because markets can change in the 2-3 years (or more) that it takes to get a crop, and because each crop has its own special issues at the growing, processing and marketing stages. You really need to do your research to come up with a list of potential crops. Then we can help whittle down the list with information on the technical side of growing. For farmers experienced in conventional commodity crops the marketing end is really the biggest change because herbs do not have the big, fluid markets that other agricultural commodities have. You can’t just show up at the door of a buyer and expect to sell your crop as you can with other crops. Marketing herbs is a process of developing trust with buyers and that takes patience and determination. There is a "chicken and egg" element where buyers are reluctant to talk to you unless you have samples to show, so you have to dive in and grow something first without having any assurance that your first crop will sell. This is why we always recommend starting small first. Do not grow more than an acre for any crop at first; even less will be enough to get your feet wet with.

Having said all that, here are some crops that Ontario farmers are growing today with success: valerian, st. johns’ wort, ginseng, goldenseal, garlic, dandelion, echinacea, astragalus (chinese milkvetch). And for the fresh market, farmers are growing basil, parsley, chives, arugula (roquette), oregano, mint, thyme, sage, tarragon.

Also is there any stevia successfully being grown in Ontarioor saffron? Would these be viable? What about woodland ginseng?

Stevia can be grown successfully in Ontario. This was proved by studies done in the 1990s by both the federal and provincial governments. Saffron cannot be grown commercially because of the hand labour required to pick the stigmas of the flowers to get the dried safron of the sprice trade. Woods grown ginseng is a viable crop in Ontario.

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