The Viability of Growing Organic Medicinal Herbs as Alternative Cash Crops for Wisconsin Farmers

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $5,747.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: greenhouses, organic fertilizers
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    This project will research twenty-six medicinal crops as potential alternative cash crops for Wisconsin farmers. The herbs will be grown organically on certified organic land in small (1/20th to 1/10th of an acre) plots.

    I will investigate the viability of growing and marketing dried medicinal herbs as alternative cash crops for Wisconsin farmers. I will be growing the herbs employing organic and sustainable methods on certified organic land (certifiable in spring 2008). Over a period of two consecutive growing seasons (March 2008 - October 2009) I will collect data on the production and marketing of 26 medicinal herb crops suitable for growing in southern Wisconsin. Wisconsin farmers could benefit greatly from new herbal cash crops. The medicinal herb market is growing every year, creating a growing need for local/regional organic production of medicinals.

    The following is a list of the twenty-six crops I propose to study: angelica, anise, arnica, bee balm, black cohosh, bone set, calendula, German chamomile, catnip, comfrey, echinacea, elecampane, fennel seed, feverfew, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, marshmallow, motherwort, peppermint, sage, spearmint, skullcap, St. John's wort, valerian, vervain (blue), and yarrow. I have experience growing these potential cash crops on a small scale and will be growing these crops on a larger scale for this project. I chose these crops to study due to their marketability as well as their diverse medicinal qualities. Almost all of these crops are multiple year perennial crops (anise is an annual). Each crop will be grown in 1/20th - 1/10th of an acre plots. The parts of the plant used differ from crop to crop. Some are grown for their leaves and/or flowers. Some are grown for their root and one is a seed crop. The first year is more of an establishment year (I already three crops established) while the second and third years are the primary yield years. Most perennials require two years growth before a major harvest (small yields first year) and most root crops require three years growth before harvest.

    I will be keeping close records on a variety of factors involved in the production and marketing of these crops. I will keep track of the amount of labor and costs required for each crop (from seedling through packaging). Information on greenhouse start methods will be kept. Almost all of the crops require a ten to twelve week start in the greenhouse. I will record overall production methods, plant vigor, pests, special soil requirements, water requirements, overwintering problems and yield of each crop. Records of harvest methods as well as drying and processing methods of each crop will be kept. Each crop will have photographic documentation of each stage of growth.

    I have researched the market for each of these crops. I have researched the Midwest region in order to keep the herb sales as local/ regional as possible. All of these crops are marketable to a variety of potential customers at a variety of quantities. Most potential customers require an organic certificate to consider purchasing the herbs. Some potential customers resale the raw dried herbs while others process the herbs into tinctures, teas, capsules and natural body products. Detailed records of marketing, sales and profits will be kept for each of the crops.

    This project will build on the limited work done on this problem primarily in three ways:
    1. The project will examine organic herb production in Wisconsin
    2. The project will research a comprehensive variety of twenty-six herbs
    3. The project will focus on local/regional markets only

    Past studies highlighted in ATTRA's publication Herb Production in Organic Systems, address herb production in Iowa and Minnesota (LNC94-066 and FNC97 -178). Each study was conducted on six or seven herbs. This study will examine many more. I did not find marketing studies through ATTRA's publications focusing on local/regional marketing. I found no studies on medicinal herb production in Wisconsin. I have also noted that not many studies of herb production have been conducted in a 100% organic setting. The nine acre field used for this project will be certified spring of 2008. I will adhere to strict organic production methods for this project. I have also referred to one of ATTRA's references, Tim Blakeley's herb farm guideMedicinal
    Herbs in the Garden, Field and Marketplace. Blakeley discusses the importance of the need for more organic herb farming and research throughout the country.

    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.