Ginseng farmers hope for better year ahead
Among the speakers at Tuesday’s annual general meeting of the Ontario Ginseng Growers Association were, from left, director Carl Atkinson of St. Williams, president Doug Bradley of Scotland and Dr. Dan Brown of the University of Western Ontario. (MONTE SONNENBERG Simcoe Reformer)
Area ginseng growers thought they had their hands full with the weather last year.
Making a difficult situation worse, none expected the poker game in Asia when it came time to sell their crop.
Some growers ended up panicking and selling their root for less than it was worth. All things considered, it made for a tough year.
Doug Bradley of Scotland, president of the Ontario Ginseng Growers Association, warned buyers last year that the 2011 crop would be smaller than normal due to bad weather. Buyers balked at the news, withholding orders until they were sure that OGGA’s forecast was accurate.
“Frankly, I don’t think they believed us,” Bradley said at OGGA’s annual general meeting in Delhi Tuesday. “This past year they took that wait-and-see attitude. It took them a couple months before they gave their purchase orders to their buyers. Farmers had a little bit of doubt. Then they got nervous. Some farmers started to sell at a lower price. The question is, how much did it cost our farmers to panic? Now there is very little inventory.”
As it happened, OGGA was not bluffing. The 2011 crop came in at about 4.5 million pounds. This is down from nearly 5.5 million pounds in 2010.
In his report to the gathering, which was held at the Delhi Belgian Hall, Bradley spoke of the difficulty and insecurity that comes with being a ginseng producer.
The crop was smaller last year, in part, because of frost, damp weather, high heat and drought over the previous three years. The quality was there, but root size suffered because of unfavourable growing conditions. A patch of ginseng must sit for four years before it is ready to harvest.
“It’s a foregone conclusion that it is a very difficult crop to grow, risky to say the least, labour intensive, costly; but that’s the nature of the crop,” Bradley said. “We can’t do much about Mother Nature, but maybe we need to be more mindful of the cash flow required to sustain this high input crop for the length of the grow out before we plant, not after.
“It costs a ton of money, and it seems when it’s finally in the barrel there is a mindset to get it gone and get the cheque. I think it is because we want to satisfy our temporary financial obligations and regain that peace of mind of feeling secure, even though it’s only for a few short months until it starts all over again. This is a stressful business, and that fear of losing it all is always in the back of your mind.”
Despite the challenges facing the industry, it was mentioned several times yesterday that Ontario ginseng is the root against which all other ginseng is rated. OGGA’s “running root” logo is popping up more and more in pirated form in Asian markets on ginseng that purports to be from Canada.
Dr. Dan Brown, a biologist from the University of Western Ontario, said a number of factors have come together to make Ontario ginseng the industry leader. This includes good weather, good soil, knowledgeable farmers, and unprecedented government support for marketing and crop development.
“The scientific support for the growers is world class,” Brown said. “I don’t know of any other group of growers that has this kind of support.”
The annual value of the Ontario ginseng crop fluctuates in the range of $120 million. The price fluctuates within a range of about $12 a pound to nearly $30 a pound. The payoff from an acre can be as high as $60,000. Nearly 140 growers belonged to OGGA last year, a figure that is declining.
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