Expanding Organic Herb Production in the Northwest

by Dennis Knock

In August 2015, I made a return visit to north central Oregon to view field trials for expanding organic peppermint production and beginning production of echinacea, catnip and skullcap, three popular herbs that have suffered a recent decrease in domestic production. Frontier provided our Well Earth partner with funds for the trials in the spring, with harvest taking place in July and August.

The trials were on 102 acres of land recently converted to certified organic agriculture. I visited to see how the trials had gone for both the organic peppermint and new herbs.

Echinacea field in north central Oregon

Echinacea field trial in north central Oregon

The land is along the Columbia River and is considered high desert area, with dry conditions and high winds. With irrigation from the Columbia River, it’s very conducive to growing mint and other hearty plants such as the three herbs chosen.

On my visit in 2013 when the conversion project was being launched, there was confidence this land would be productive, but there were concerns over weed control, water usage and plant quality since the land had been used for conventional production prior to conversion.

But the results were very positive in all respects. The mint quality and yield was outstanding and superior to other organic fields in the area. Weeds were not a problem, which kept production costs down and allowed for a higher yield. The results of the field trials for the new herbs were also very positive, producing tall and robust plants with good color and aroma. Hand-sifted samples of the field trials were sent to the Frontier Quality Lab for evaluation and received high marks for quality.

catnip field in north central Oregon

Catnip field trial in north central Oregon

Full production of these items will begin this spring, with the first delivery of product expected by early fall. Given the success of the trials, we are now partnering with the supplier for field trials of organic culinary herbs, such as dill, cilantro and parsley. We hope to complete the trials this year and begin production in 2017. Frontier is also supporting the supplier in improving the drying of these items by assisting in the funding of a mechanized dryer. The faster, better drying will increase the overall quality of the products.

We’re very encouraged by the initial success of this Well Earth project, and we’re excited about the future prospects of offering more high quality domestically produced organic herbs through the expansion of organic farming in the Pacific Northwest.

About the Author:  Dennis travels the world as a Commodity Manager for Frontier’s Global Sourcing team to meet with the growers who supply Frontier. He often coordinates donations through our Well Earth sourcing program for grower communities (commonly small villages) to provide basics we take for granted, such as medical care, education, water and electricity. In Iowa, Dennis is head of our Community Giving Program and travels to nearby towns to lend a helping hand to local organizations, charities and events.

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