Demonstrating Organic Wild Crop Utilization and Certification as a Profitable Model for Enhancing Overall Farm Sustainability in the Missouri Ozarks

Final Report for FNC07-669

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $17,736.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
Participants:
• George and Penny Frazier Goods From The Woods Certified Organic Wild Crop 20 acres
• Pioneer Forest – timber (186,000 acres)
• Randy Bonham 280 Acres some cattle, some wild collection
• Adam Weiss 75 acres – Native plant farm and Nursery
• Ollie Hill – 35 acres garden patch, small animals

We received SARE Funds for the project in Mid June 2008. Two properties were certified organic wild crops in September and one organic processing certificate was issued in late December 2008. Certification has proved to be challenging to participants for a number of reasons. We shifted focus from certification to site specific data for wild harvesting yields and sustainability. There is very little information about the value and yields of wild plants species in our region. Certification sometimes enhances value but basic data on wild harvest yields is generally not available. The lack of information for organic inspectors about wild harvest yields leads to organic fraud, which was an obstacle in both certification and income potential, thus making certification many times more trouble than it is worth, until there is better enforcement of organic rules.

A total of 642 man-hours were used in harvesting and processing wild harvested materials over two years, working on seven sites for five species of native wild harvests in the Ozark region. Our project identified several information gaps that need to be filled in order to realize the full potential of wild crops in a site specific sustainable manner. In the course of the project we discovered our projected sustainable yield for witch hazel was only one quarter of what had been anticipated, while other species like hickory nuts and yarrow had wide variation in yield in the same areas. Hickory nuts were few and far between in 2009 and the yarrow flowers, like the witch hazel showed dramatic decreases in yield per manhour. Thus, this grant was important in that the costs were higher than anticipated as a result of lower yields

PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Goal: Document production practices by collecting information related to labor costs and estimated yields per acre site-specific.

Certified Organic Wild Crop Witch Hazel
2008
647 wet lbs. of witch hazel were harvested over the course of 20 man hours from 3 acres of certified organic forest for an average of 32 lbs. per man hour. This raw material was distilled at a rate of 8 lbs. per gallon and used to create a total of 60 gallons of witch hazel hydrodsol. This provided 8 distillations with a man hour costs for distillation of 8 hours per distillation. Total hours in distilling were 64. Total man hours were 84.

Of the 64 gallons, 45 gallons were stored in food grade high density plastic containers, and 15 gallons were stored in low density food containers. The 45 gallons in high density plastic became rancid between the distillation and the organic certification being issued. The 15 gallons in the low density food grade containers was fine and rapidly sold at $75.00 per gallon.

Man-hours associated with value- added production included processing raw material for distillation, loading the unit, monitoring quality, decanting, clean up and record keeping. This would account for aproximately 6 hours per run and a yield of 4 gallons per distillation and manpower of 8 hours per distillation with clean up and primary packing.

Due to the loss of product, 84 man hours yielded 15 gallons – 5.6 man hours per gallon, excluding travel time.

In short, 5.6 man-hours produced $75.00 of product absent other costs like distilled water, packaging, gasoline, and marketing. Without certification the going market value on the witch hazel hydrosol would be about on quarter of the return.

Certified Organic Wild Crop Witch Hazel
2009
847 wet lbs. of witch hazel were taken from the forest in 2009. There were five individual harvests and the total man-hours for harvesting was 55 hours. In harvesting, the second year, the average harvest yield was 15.5 lbs. of fresh material per hour. Our targets proved to be unrealistic and general observations about ecosystems and sustainability required a reworking of harvest plans.

In the course of our second harvest, we discovered that the yield was not as anticipated on a per acre level. We harvested one mile using our harvest protocol of primarily sine wood up to 25 percent of any individual plant. The yield was 847 lbs. rather than our target of 4,000 lbs. The witch hazel is only located on gravel bars and the second harvest areas did not have the anticipated concentration of plant material. Thus the yield in 20 acres was one quarter of what we had projected.

Originally our plan called for pruning for growth and the original concept had been that that the shrubs would increase in yield and population, such that our second and third harvests of the same areas will be more bountiful. This is proving to be unrealistic as pruning of witch hazel, increases the habitat for competitive species in the same habitat. As we harvest the witch hazel, there is more sunlight and the

101 gallons of certified product was produced with SARE Funds applying toward production costs, certification costs, labor costs, packaging and leasehold costs. Luckily the SARE grant assisted with most of those costs.

50 lbs per acre1 represents a sustainable harvest based on current plant populations and conditions.

Second year, 847 lbs – man hours 55, 26distillations @ 8 hours each total man-hours 263 man-hours, 101 gallons of certified organic distillate. The man hours, minus travel producing the witch hazel was 2.5 hours per gallon.

2008 Wild Harvested Yarrow Floral Water

220 wet lbs of yarrow flowers were harvested over the course of 30 man hours from apx 1 1/2 acre of uncertified land . For an average of 7.33 lbs per man hour. This raw material was distilled at a rate of 8 lbs per gallon and used to was used to create a total of 4 gallons of yarrow hydrosol and 1 oz of essential oil.

Man-hours associated with value added production, included processing raw material for distillation, loading the unit, monitoring quality, decanting, clean up and record keeping. This would account for axp 4 hours per run and a yield of 4 gallons of floral water and 45 mils of essential oil in the distillation. This floral water was offered in 1 pint containers at $12.50 ($800.00) and the essential oil was sold in 1 mil vials for $5.00 per vial. Approximately 1/w ($100.00) of the essential oil was sold with the remainder going for personal use and free samples to potential clients. Total gross value $900.00, 7 man hours. This product was popular and certification was not paramount to claiming selling the material. The value of the harvest was purchased from the farm at $1.50 per pound, the equivalent of $11.00 per hour for the value paid on a per pound basis. Apx. 198 lbs of material was frozen and has not been distilled.

Of the 198 lbs, approximately 175 lbs were lost when a freezer unit failed and plant material spoiled.

2009 Wild Harvested Yarrow Floral Water

35 man hours were utilized in picking 45 lbs. This produced 1 distillation and 43 man hours created $65.00 value in essential oil and $120.00 in hydrosols. The second year’s harvest was substantially less than the first year, due to availability in botanical yield in the same area. The difference in yield could be the result of many variables, including time of harvest, yearly rainfall or unsustainable harvest in 2008. We don’t know what a sustainable yield would be as a result of the wide variation in yield between 2008 and 2009.
53 man-hours, less travel time resulted in $185.00 value of product, which from a monetary perspective is not sustainable.

HICKORY NUTS

12 man hours were spent collecting 327 lbs shagbark hickory nuts on apx 3 acres. From these nuts, axp 35 lbs of hickory nut meats were produced and sold for $12.00 per pound. The nut meats were obtained in the course of watching football on Saturday and Sunday. It took apx 2 hours to shell one lb of nut meats. These nut meats were sold at $12.00 lb for a gain. However, not all the nuts were processed into nut meats and the ratio of raw nuts to nut meats runs about 3.5 lbs to 1. $420.00 return for effort. 70 hours shelling, 12 hours collecting, total 82 hours, $5.12 an hour.

HICKORY NUTS

The participating farm had no hickory harvest in 2009. Through outreach we were able to locate a small farm with hickory trees belonging to a Ms. Ollie Hill.
Ms. Hill spent 20 hour collection hickory nuts and 35 hours shelling. The result was 24.6 lbs of hickory nuts at $12.00 per pound. Apx. Return of $6.00 per hour for additional revenues from her acreage.

In both years, it was questionable to the producer if the harvest would be undertaken again, without the guarantee offered by the SARE. Both farmers felt it was more effort that reward, but also remarked it might be a good project for young people. Additionally, they compared it to the traditional walnut collection done in the Ozarks and felt it was less work and more money than the walnuts.

MONARDA FISTULOSA
2008
63 lb of flower heads were harvested over 8 man hours. Two distillations were completed yielding 8 gallons of hydrosol, with a retail value $800.00 and 3 oz of essential oil value $180.00

2009
MONARDA FISTULOSA

85 lbs were harvested over the course 18 man – hours. The dry weight of the flowers was 21 lbs and the flowers were sold dry for $5.00 per pound. We intentionally wanted to explore the market value of the dried herb vrs other value added process.

ELDER FLOWER
35 lbs 1 Distillations *85.00
5 man hours to harvest – 4 hours to distill
4 gallons of distillate were produced with a value of $65.00 each Total of 13 man hours to produce $260.00 value

Scientific testing of Value Added Products

Many people have been quoted as not recommending hydrosols because of bacterial or mold contamination. Additionally, there has been a broader question in the health and beauty industry about small farmer’s ability to produce products that meet FDA requirements. We used grant funds to have the distillates tested at a scientific laboratory.

The FDA requirements are that 1,000 colonies or less are allowed in areas other than around the eyes.
Our testing showed from zero colonies to 52 colonies. Proving that FDA criteria could be met with small scale farm distillations. These tests were critical for marketing the products to wholesale manufacturers of health and beauty products. We discovered as we began to market products to the manufacturers of personal care products that these tests were critical to being able to sell the items. Additionally, the outstanding purity of the products enhanced their value and became an important tool for sales.

Challenges Identified – Organic Fraud

One species, witch hazel, was chosen because of the global demand, absence of certified production land, market demand and the ease of documenting the value of that particular wild harvest. Hamamelis virginiana is indigenous to the United States. Extensive research revealed on a global there is but a single certified organic witch hazel plantation production operation in France. That operation is incapable of producing the volume of certified organic witch hazel distillate being consumed in the U.K. Australia, France and United States. Certified organic witch hazel distillate has been exported from the U.S. over the last few years, without there being sufficient certified acreage to account for the level of production. This is especially true given the drop off of American land certified for herbal and botanical production addressed below.

Looking at the research data on all certified acreage in the U.S for herbal production , we discovered it had declined substantially, down 95% from 1995 – 2005.

Uncertified and illegally harvested wild material is entering the supply chain as certified material in part because the inspectors do not understand how to audit “wild crops” or botanicals. This was an important discover that in part drove our project to focus first on site specific collection data before certification. Without baseline data on wild harvests, inspectors have no tools for auditing the validity of certification.

It is very difficult to audit yield per certified acre without some type of hands on experience with botanical harvesting. People engaged in the botanical industry understand the lack of 1st hand knowledge by inspectors and exploit it. This puts a legitimate operation at a distinct disadvantage. To this end, we did file a complaint with the USDA NOP based on a failure of a certifier to audit a certified wild crop producer.

2009 Organic Fraud Discovery

Furthermore, in 2009 we discovered that on “reputable” seller of organic witch hazel was by all indications selling hazel nut leaf. The vice president of sales had told Penny Frazier that there were huge Witch Hazel Plantations in Poland. Ms. Frazier followed up with two Universities and discovered the huge plantations were for hazel nuts and that Poland neither produced nor exported organic witch hazel. The matter was turned over to Oregon Tilth which certified both parties.

Harvest yield variations

There were many more variations in yields from year to year, which had not been anticipated. There might be natural cycles to wild plant production that are yet to be realized. Rainfall might play a role in productivity and harvest itself may impact yearly yields, either positively or negatively. Further work in the same harvested areas over longer periods of time would be advised for more conclusive sustainable yields.

V. Outreach

Our results have been shared in general discussions with people engaged in the organic certification profession. Those discussions have been limited ways of detecting organic fraud and the need for better criteria in developing “sustainability” guidelines. There were two “meet and greet” events in St. Louis. There additional “meet and greets” in Salem MO at two local events. Results were presented at a formal session for the National Network of Forest Practitioners, which included several forestry professionals. Additionally, the program was webcast.

The National Network of Forest Practitioners, one our partners in this project had to move its annual meeting from September 2008 until May 2009. Project reports will be presented at that meeting, together with a field day and tour of the distillation facility.

We held a field day at our farm and had over 70 people attend, including several the State Foresters from Tennessee and Arkansas, together with representatives from several large forest cooperatives. Additionally, a dozen local residents came to learn about the project.

We presented project results to 11th Annual Agroforsty Conference at a dinner as part of a Farmers Show and Tell in Columbia Missouri at the request of Dr. James Chamberlain, Research Scientist, Non-Timber Forest Products, Coordinator, Research Group 5.11and Dr. Mike Gold. That event was attended by 65 University instructors, researchers and college students. Thereafter, the conference field day took an unofficial stop and visited a location in downtown Salem where producer’s items were on display and offered for sale.

Penny Frazier was invited to participate in a larger non-timber forest product effort as an advisor and results will be shared at an upcoming conference in Portland Or, May 23 and 24, 2010.

The power point given at the National Network of Forest Practioners is available on the website, www.wildcrops.com and details the first year of the project.

PROJECT IMPACTS
Through outreach, we have been contacted by other small farmers about on-farm distillation. Penny Frazier was interviewed by the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry for their work with elderberries and was able to contribute some information on alternative markets for their SARE-funded study. Additionally, those people who worked on this project are continuing their work together. Without the support of the grant funds, we do not believe that would have been possible, as some harvests were very costly in terms of labor vs. production.

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.