- Additional Plants: indigo (Indigofera suffruticosa)
- Crop Production: cropping systems, seed saving
- Education and Training: demonstration, workshop
- Farm Business Management: value added
- Pest Management: mulching - plastic
- Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities
Farmers interested in growing indigo plants on a commercial scale for natural dye production are in need of efficient, sustainable methods to become profitable. They face a 200-year gap since indigo dye was produced as one of the most profitable crops in 18th century South Carolina. At that time, the South American indigo plant (Indigofera suffruticosa) was grown and processed and harvested almost entirely by hand. The crop does well in the summer heat, without irrigation, and without any known insect pests, fungi or deer browse. However, in order to produce the plant on a commercial scale, it must be planted, managed and harvested in a more efficient manner. Because the harvest involves collecting stems rather than the entire plant, scaling up production will require the use of a sickle-bar mower attached to a tractor as a more efficient method than hand-harvesting.
Project objectives from proposal:
In the proposed system, a 1/2 acre will be planted with more than 900 plants grown in flats, transplanted into weed fabric, and fertilized with periodic manure applications in rows that allow for efficient cultivation by tractor between rows and harvest by sickle-bar mower. This system is projected to produce at lasts 1/2 lb of biomass per plant, an increase of 50 percent per plant over the current hand-labor methods.