Video: Forest Botanicals- Deep and Tangled Roots
Hi everyone, this is MacKenzie Rawcliff from the American Tree Farm System. Thank you for joining us. This is the last of our non-timber forest products webinar series but it's been a great series. We've seen all sorts of new speakers and new participants from outside the tree farm network but I just want to say a quick thank you to the people who helped us put this together. Thank you to the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, the USDA National Agroforestry Center, the USDA Forest Service and especially the eXtension Forest Farming Community of Practice which is where, pretty much exclusively all the wonderful speakers we've heard from this series have come from and this is the last in the series and so I hope you guys have all enjoyed it.
If you'd like to see the past webinars, I'll put the link into the chat box so that you can look at what we've been doing, and there are CSE credits for this webinar. The video will be available for a month to watch for credit and you'll receive the slides, a couple articles that he's going to mention and the certificate after this webinar and if you watch it later, you'll receive it in an email in a month. And if you ever have any problems hearing during the webinar, if your internet is off and so you're having trouble, first I would suggest refreshing your browser. That often helps and then, another thing you can do is that if it's just a lost cause and you're just having trouble, you will be sent the recording so you know, worse comes to worse, you will get this content. It just might not be live, and so we'll get us started with Production of Forest Botanicals for market by Eric Burkhart and actually you can just take it away Eric. Okay, good afternoon everyone. It's a pleasure to be with you from central Pennsylvania where it's a cold and blustery day here.
I'm glad you could join me. Today we're going to talk a little bit in the hour that we have on production of forest botanicals for markets and here we're specifically talking about commercially oriented production and I'm going to speak about some of my own work, some of which I'll briefly just cite the papers that some of these analysis, research results are drawn from for your further consideration. If you agree or not with what I'm saying, or you want to get more into the facts or analysis, so in that regard I've asked MacKenzie to follow up this presentation with an email that's going to have an attachment to it, so you're welcome to review those and my email is in there as well and you'll be able to get in touch with me directly and talk to me about anything you might have heard or find confusing or you might disagree with or share some insights into. I'll say that I'm not an expert per say. I'm just someone that's been engaged in this particular industry for about 15 years now and fortunate enough to meet a variety of different people coming from a lot of different areas in the eastern US.
As I look out at everyone that's tuning in here, I'm pleased to see that we've got a lot of people from the eastern US but we also have some folks from the west as well. So, this will be geared towards botanicals from the eastern US but I think a lot of what I'm going to share is applicable, not only to the United States as a whole but throughout the whole herbal supply chain. A lot of these issues I've chosen to highlight and that's what I'm going to do in this presentation is use some case studies to highlight issues that come up with production of forest botanicals. It's applicable not only in the United States but also throughout the world. So with that, I'm coming to you from Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, Penn State University and going to be talking about three plants today. In specific I've chosen to go deep into three plants rather than to stay shallow and cover a variety of different botanicals and so what I'm going to ask is that people reserve their questions until the end.
We will wrap up at approximately 3 o'clock. I'll be glad to then look at the questions that are coming through and take a stab at answering whatever I can in the time that we have allotted. We won't stick around till 5 o'clock or something like that but we'll take some time to take those questions at the end. As I said, my contact information will be in a follow-up email with those papers. I welcome communication from anyone that might be listening in and might have some questions or some experiences to share. So I'm not going to be able to read the chat but I'm just going to put out there as a general question if you all want to type in…there'll be a log that I can look at later…I'm curious as to how many of you are actually commercially oriented producers of herbs right now – whether they're florist, native botanicals or other herbs.
And so, by commercial I mean, are you growing something that you are selling as a crop…whatever quantity that might be. So if you consider yourself a grower that is selling, I'd be curious to know what it is and you can kind of log that in in the lower left hand side if you don't mind. I know some of this information can be sensitive but only your name appears. So, with that said, I'm going to jump into the content and we're going to start out by talking about this idea of agroforestry. I don't know how many of you have been tuning into this entire series but this is a theme that has come up over and over again. And really, what I'm going to be focused on here is this idea that we can actually not only make money on growing these plants but we can conserve these plants – and I'm going to be focusing on native, medicinal plants – by growing them and specifically by growing them in the forest. So here we're talking about plants that are native to the eastern forest. Again, for those in the western US, there are a variety of different plants that you may be aware of that grow in the forest there.
But we're going to be taking about the idea that you can grow these forest plants not necessarily out of their home. In other words, in artificial shade covered fields, but rather let's use the forest, their native habitat, to produce high-quality products. In doing so, there's a variety of different benefits that we might achieve okay, and I'll talk more about that in a moment. Within the United States, we do have the united, USDA National Agroforestry Center. If you google that, if you're not familiar with it you'll realize that it's a great resource that exists. A lot of people don't realize that the USDA does have their hand in promoting agroforestry here in the United States. So you'll definitely want to connect with them and that effort. And they recognize five different practices within the agroforestry scene if you will, in the United States and the one that we're going to focus on today is known as forest farming. There is no really well-established definition of forest farming and so this line is kind of an amalgamation of things that I kind of like based on my own experience with some of the academic materials that are out there, but basically we're talking about an agroforestry practice in which specialty crops are either introduced or they're already existing and they're husbanded in the forest and that forest is managed to provide conducive growing conditions through forest stand improvements.
Okay, now that's a lot to keep in mind but it also encapsulates the idea that there is really no cookie-cutter mold here for me to stand here or sit here and preach to you all. It depends on what crops you're interested in or have present on your forest lands. What type of forest lands you have, their condition, whether you're trying to manage for over-story productivities, certain timber species or other non-timber forest products like maple syrup or if you're strictly focused on a particular medicinal plant and that's all you're interested in. So there's a variety of different ways that we can talk about this including introducing plants that are not there such as ginseng and growing them as a crop or finding ginseng on your property and encourage that ginseng to grow and be fruitful and develop essentially a crop from it.
I would say these days, I'll go back to the reasons as we go through, these days it's very easy to get your eyes and your goals set on introducing a variety of different plants on forest lands and growing them but what I hope to attune you to at least a little bit in this presentation is that the way we'll approach it really is to get to know your forest land. Find out what's growing there. Find out what likes to grow there and don't fight it. Work with that ecosystem to grow whatever plants it wants to grow in abundance, and that said, there are many plants like American ginseng that have been over harvested throughout 300 years of exploitation and they're just not going to be found on your forest land even though it may be conducive to growing there so sometimes, a lot of the time, there is a little bit of trial and error that also has to take place. But certainly, you have to start with getting to know the forest lands that you want to produce on. Now while I might be focused on growing on forest lands, there's a variety of different benefits, but I'll just say from the purposes of the particular botanicals that I'm going to focus on, and again, I'll talk about three out of perhaps as many as 50 native forest botanicals that grow on eastern forest lands, east of Mississippi and a little bit west of Mississippi in some cases, that have commercial market value and have somewhat, at least somewhat of a deep market demand at this point.
We're specifically focusing on these things that grow on forest lands. As a result, many of them, not all of them, but many of them have a very simple requirement that they are shade obligate which means that they require shade in order to complete their life cycle and grow over time. They will tolerate some disturbance and some full sun light for some part of the growing season but they will not tolerate it indefinitely. So, in that regard what we have to think about is one of the best and most obvious benefits of growing these plants on forest lands is that we are utilizing forest canopy to provide that shade and that's not a significant expense. When we look at the cost of shade production, whether it's in Wisconsin or places like Ontario, it's a significant expense. We're talking about estimates somewhere between 15,000 and 35,000 an acre depending on how new the materials are and whether you're working in a cooperative fashion and what kind of equipment you need to purchase vs.
rent vs. borrow…all of those sorts of things, but the shade alone in many cases can cost upwards of 15,000 to 35,000 dollars so it is a significant expense. It's one that has to be born over a period of years, as we'll talk about…these plants do not grow in a single growing season. They grow for many years, and as a result, that is a huge expense to think about. So, one of the biggest benefits to growing in the forest through an agroforestry based forest farming system is simply reduce the cost associated with that canopy or that shade. Other benefits that we could think about very quickly is of course, income and I would like to just put it out there that while there may be many of you or most of you, it's hard to tell who are tuned into this presentation, who are just interested or maybe interested in growing a little bit of these plants on property for your own use or for small local markets, um, I'm going to focus on the bigger picture. That is, what if you are interested to do this as a significant source of income and not just a hobby, but as a source of income and so in that regard, many of these plants do offer that opportunity and that's why we're talking about it.
These are not plants that are going to be something that you can just harvest and use to make your own ointments or your own salves but rather something that you can actually sell in to the existing commercial trade markets. So income is certainly an advantage to growing these plants. Stewardship of forest lands is something that we talk about from the eXtension side of things but it's also a tool that helps land owners. In other words, if you can gain income, and relatively speaking it's shorter term income from growing these plants on forest lands, that is a way to accomplish other objectives on that forest land, whether it's timber management or deer fencing, invasive plant control… That income can help offset some of the costs associated with whatever it is that you want to do on those forest lands whether it's restoration or improvement or further income generation or just paying for it.
..offsetting the cost of the land and the taxes and so on. So stewardship value and then finally, in the state of Pennsylvania, I'm going to come at you directly from Pennsylvania because that's where I'm working but again, it has broader applicability. We're dealing with a lot of forest fragmentation issues. So, in short what that means is a lot of our forest lands are getting either converted or they're becoming parceled into smaller and smaller parcels which lead to other issues associated with management and invasive species spread and so on, and so, growing a lot of these plants in the understory of a forest can provide a mechanism and a means of income and a means of stewardship for keeping that forest intact and basically doing your part in conserving forest lands here. So there's a variety of things that come from growing these plants on forest lands as opposed to agronomic fields with shade over top of them. Just hitting some highlights.
.. I'm sure you all have some of your own thoughts about what you might hope to get from it. Now, the first thing I'm going to introduce is a lot of the economics that I'm going to touch on here.. I am going to have some economic -bent slides and I'll try and just hit the highlights. If you want to dig into the details, this paper will be circulated after this presentation. You're welcome to look at financial models and some of the details of how we calculated some of this profitability or lack there of, of some of these botanicals, okay and I just want to point out that some of the models that come from this paper which was published in the general agroforestry systems a few years ago and it was a paper that I published with co-author Michael Jacobson who is a forest economist at Penn State University and basically what we tried to do in this paper was take as a given that there was an interest and there is a need for people to grow many of these plants on forest lands and let's work with some growers and with some growing trials and some data collected from growing trials and put together some financial models for what this looks like, that is, if you are going to adopt agroforestry based production on forest lands for a variety of different plants, um, can you make money at it? Bottom line.
So I'll share more of that as we move along. Now I'm going to use three case studies to illustrate some of the reasons why we have opportunities to grow these plants, some of the reasons we have challenges to grow these plants and also to underscore the need to grow these plants, and that's a given. And so, at the end I'm going to wrap up at kind of looking ahead at where we're at with some of these markets and market demand and what needs to happen and again I would encourage some of you, particularly if you're commercially oriented in growing these botanicals or interested in it, feel free to get in touch with me afterwards and I can basically bring you into the fold with some of the supply chain stuff we're working on right now. But the three cases I'm going to talk about are Black cohosh (Actae racemosa), Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). These are three out of perhaps 50 plants that grow on eastern forest lands that have a significant market demand and should be grown.
..or at least there's some interest in growing them. And we're going to use them to illustrate various reasons why we'd want to grow them, what the opportunities are and what the challenges are. For those who are not aware of these plants and for those who are tuning in from other parts of the United States and just don't have these in their backyard, that sort of stuff… I'll just hit a few highlights about each of the plants and give you some pretty pictures to look at if nothing else so you can get a sense of what these plants look like. Black cohash is a native forest plant in the eastern U.S. and southern Canada, all the way down to northern Florida, a little more abundant in the core part of its range which is essentially Pennsylvania down to the Carolinas.
It has an extremely strong market demand – a look at this data here. Let me pull this up. This is from the American Herbal Products Association which has been doing a formal survey of its members over the years. They have a more recent survey that has come out. I have not included that in this table but this gives you some sense of the volume of this particular commodity. We'll come back to some of these others as we look through this, and this is from 1997 to 2005. This is not a full market census of everybody that's growing, selling, buying trading black cohash and these other botanicals in the United States. This is just want was reported during this time period, and I highlight this to point out the fact that even with a minimum estimate of what was gathered by the American Herbal Products Association alone from its memberships. Basically we have in any given year from about 118,000 to about three quarters of a million pounds of dry product black cohash going through the market place in any given year.
That is a tremendous amount of product especially considering that it is estimated, no body knows for certain, for a variety of reasons, but it's estimated that 97 to 99 percent of that material, or greater, is wild crafted, meaning it's harvested from the wild. So yeah, there's a conservation concern and it tends to cultivate through conservation or conservation through cultivation, but there's also an opportunity. There's an opportunity for people to step in and say, you know what? I can grow this stuff. It grows well on my forest lands and I'd be happy to grow this for the market. And so what we're going to do here is walk through some of the nuts and bolts of black cohosh market production. The price is another matter altogether. So, I've worked with some folks over the years including some of them that's on this webinar. I see Steve Turcheck, I'll just give a shout-out to him. Thank you Steve for a lot of the price data. But I've worked also with some of the regional consolidators to pull together some of the price data particularly in recent years and pull together a composite of what's going on in black cohosh markets.
So what you can see overall is a trend upwards. This is not adjusted for inflation for anyone who's really into the nuts and bolts of economics. This is not adjusted for inflation. This is just real-time price data if you will from 1968 onwards to 2012. What you see is the price has gone up but we still are hovering between 3 and 5 dollars a pound typically in recent years. And so I'm going to talk about whether that's a good price or not because some of you are probably scratching your head saying well, what does that mean? So, what does that mean? So I'm going to refer to the paper and I'm going to explain that this is the first time I'm putting this particular graph up and I'll show it for Goldenseal and American Ginseng next. Okay, so this is a histogram. This is kind of an easy way to visualize what we reported in the paper and basically this summarizes a lot of what we've found working with growers and working with yield data and growing trials to figure out what was the yield and how much money could you make and so on. So let me just summarize what's going on here.
So what we did in that paper is we, for a quarter of an acre, we identified how much black cohosh could you get right? So what the yields would be with the average roots, what the prices were, what the price was from 1990 to 2005. We did adjust that for inflation and that's what you're seeing over on the left side of this histogram – historic prices. These are the prices between 1990 and 2005 and it has since jumped up to about 5 dollars per pound, which as you'll see in a moment doesn't really matter too much. During that time if you adjust for inflation, the minimum prices paid was about a dollar a pound. Maximum price about three dollars a pound. Average about two dollars a pound. Then what we did was work with growers to identify, if we were going to grow this cohosh, not just wild-craft it, but if we were going to make some beds, we're going to grow this stuff, plant the seed and through a variety of different husbandry mechanisms, come back in a few years and then harvest it.
So what we have is seed versus transplant. Seed is the green bars. Transplant is the yellow bars. Underneath that, we've got a bunch of short little acronyms. EH means early harvest. 6 year, means 6 years. So, if we were going to grow black cohosh out from seed, generally it's accepted that you need about 6 years at least, in forest-land conditions to get a yield, a commercially viable yield of black cohosh root. But, there is some sense, under the right conditions, if you push those plants, you might be able to get commercially harvestable roots at 4 years and this is all data that just wasn't picked out of the sky. This was pulled out from experts like Jeanine Davis, from growers operating throughout the eastern U.S. and from growing trials that had been conducted in Ohio and elsewhere.
So we've got anywhere from a four to six year time frame to harvest this stuff. Now, NSC means, what if we didn't have to buy that planting stock? What if we had black cohosh on our property? We could divide the roots and you could grow it from seed. Okay. NAC means what if we didn't have any annual costs associated with it. That is, we've planted the plants in year one. We went back and harvested in year six. We didn't do anything in between. And then the EH, NSC and NAC is simply the most parsimonious model and that is, what if we could get an early harvest, what if we didn't have any stock costs and what if we didn't have any annual costs. And we calculated from seed and transplants what those break-even prices would be for black cohosh. What you're seeing there on the top of those histograms is the cost that you would need to recover, or the price you would need to get to recover the cost of that production for each of those methods.
So, in other words if you were to grow black cohosh seed and do it in six years investing a certain amount of labor and stock costs, you would need about 77 dollars a pound to break even. That does not include profit. 77 dollars, okay. If you were able to push that black cohosh, you didn't have to pay for the stock and you didn't have any annual costs, you could get that down to somewhere around 25 dollars. Okay, that would be the break-even costs. Now, if you look over at the historic prices as to what the whole-sale market has been paying in recent years, it doesn't take a whole lot of math skills or anything of that nature to realize that you will be operating within a deficit. You would not be able to make much money at all, in fact, you would be losing money in most if not all of those scenarios. And that assumes that you are selling into the whole-sale market, the markets that I just talked about that buy up to three quarters of a million pounds of black cohosh each year. This does not include those retail markets or direct to consumer markets that you might develop on your own, but it does point to the fact that those break-even prices are none-the-less, true for everyone.
So if you are an existing black cohosh producer and you haven't sat down and done the math, I would encourage you to do the math in terms of how much it costs you to produce a pound of black cohosh, because a lot of people don't do this. They don't do it for tomatoes, they're sure not going to do it for black cohosh. But to map out what it is that your investment is and what you need to get to make money off of it or at least break even is an important activity to adopt any crop and certainly with these botanicals because they are new crops and if the economics and the market-place financing is not going to work out, it's very important to do this sort of thing. So whether or not our models are 100 percent accurate, you can decide. I would encourage you to look at the paper and again you could approach me, particularly if you're a producer and you've got different models to share with me I'm happy to try and revise and share that information with people, but what we found at least from modeling and taking this information out and sharing it with other growers and producers is it seems to be that we're at least somewhere in the ball park, give or take a few dollars, somewhere in the ball park in terms of cost of production and what the market has been willing to pay.
And so the bad news is, and I hate to hit you over the head right out of the gate here because I've been kind of working you up to…well there's some opportunity here right? Well, out of the gate I'm going to tell you that, although there's opportunity, the challenge here is that, at least with black cohosh, and it is true for a variety of other botanicals as well, the market is not willing to pay the true cost of production at this point. And there's a lot of reasons that this is true and I'd be glad to talk about this at the end but none the less, this is where we're at. And so it's something to consider in the adoption of this particular crop. So I'm going to let this alone for a moment and move forward and compare this economic modeling with some of the other crops I've talked about and we'll kind of wrap it up and talk about how we can resolve this situation if you will. Okay so I'm not looking at the chat because I'm trying to stay focused but, if nobody has posted this already, some folks might say well, what's black cohosh good for? I'll just say very quickly, this is not a how-to-use kind of webiniar or anything of that nature, so we're just going to hit the highlights and of course you kind find this kind of information on your own if you're not familiar with what it's good for, but black cohosh is one of the most in-demand forest botanicals.
It is used these days for the treatment of menopausal symptoms associated with you know like, hot flashes, cramps, irregular menstruation for those who are just approaching menopause, that kind of stuff. So it's considered "a women's medicine". There are patented forms of this that are available including remifedrin that are on the market and there are a variety of different kinds of tinctures and capsules and standardized extracts and so on that are also on the market. Very popular and arguably clinically effective remedy for women's problems. Historically also used for rheumatism by the way. Black cohosh has a very, oh we'll just say inconspicuous appearance vegetatively. Once you get to recognize it, it's something that does stand out, but it's not something that really jumps out at you.
It sits in the understory of the forest oftentimes for many, many years without going through production or flowering or fruiting or anything of that nature. So this is what it looks like growing there. Now this is where we get into some of the issues that agroforestry based production can hopefully address. And so, we're going to take a little bit of detour as we talk through some of these botanicals and talk about some of the reasons why we'd want to grow these to reach the market demand. So let me just put out what we call dichotomos in botany. If you're not familiar with this, this a way that we can sort through the plants when we're out in the field and we can try and figure out what a plant is and I'm putting this up. This is from the Plants of Pennsylvania 2007, because this is the key to the four Actaea species that occur in Pennsylvania. Now throughout the eastern U.
S. I believe there are about 9 different species of Actaea. I might be off by one or two species based on most recent taxonomic treatments but there are more than just one. That's the bottom line. More than Actaea Racemosa in the U.S. Okay, and vegetatively they are quite similar to one another and so when you look at dichotomous keys you're going to see that they don't use the vegetative features to identify differences between the species, generally speaking. Instead they rely on reproductive characteristics. And so I'll just try not to bog you down if you're not botanically inclined in the terminology it's not important. What I put on the screen here for you to understand what a follicle versus a berry is for those who do understand that term, great, but what I want to point out is the fact that when you're trying to distinguish between something like black cohosh, Actaea Racemosa at the very top and something like Actaea podocarpa right below it, you'll notice that all of a sudden we get into some very tricky taxonomy especially if you're not a botanist. We get into distinguishing between the number of carpals present in a flower and at this point if I had you all in a room I would say, Okay, who can tell me what a carpal is, and we'd go through a botany class but I'll spare you that and I'll say the carpal is the reproductive structure, the female portion of the flower.
Okay. So we're counting the number of ovaries if you will that exist per flower. Okay, we're also looking at the fruit and how thick the wall is of that fruit. Okay, so that's a rather technical detail and I guess I would submit to you at this point, how many of you do you think that are out there wild-crafting this material over three quarters of a million pounds per year are out there counting the number of ovaries whenever they're out there digging the black cohosh roots? Much less the fact that many of the plants are not going to be in reproductive stage. They're going to be in vegetative stage so there's no way you could count them. So we quickly get into this notion that we've got more than one species of plant and that these plants can be confused or mixed up with one another. And so let me just show you what this looks like for those of you who say, Okay, get to the bottom line here. If we were to go out and look at black cohosh in flower and let me see if I can pull up my handy pointer – you would notice that right here is the ovary in the center part of that flower.
So black cohosh doesn't have any petals. It has a few sepals that fall off early in the flower opening but it's primarily a flower composed of male stamens that are on the outside and then an ovary that sits on the inside. So this is black cohosh. It usually has one ovary and occasionally may have two ovaries per flower. So when this flower starts to turn into a fruit you'll notice we start to have single follicles. The dry fruit will start to mature over the course of the growing season. Now black cohosh flowers during the month of July at least here in the mid-Atlantic region, a little bit earlier in the southern part of the region, but later in the northern part of its range. And then as the fruits start to develop we start to see that per petiole, that is these little fruiting stalks, we get one individual fruit developing to give you the idea and as that fruit starts to mature we get the seeds and so we have this cluster of follicles that are present during the winter months and in fact those of you who know black cohosh can go out on forest lands right now and find the tops from this past year and you'll often find seeds still in them and because when they shake in the wind they tend to make a noise that sounds like a rattle, a lot of people call this rattle leaf or rattle top.
So lets compare that with the other Actaea podocarpa. So as you're looking at this flower you see how similar they are in bloom. Okay, now can anybody point out the number of ovaries. It can get very tricky right? So now we're looking at this flower and they're kind of buried in there so if I put the little pointers on there, now you can see that there are three ovaries right? Rather than one in that particular flower. Boy that's a technical detail right? Really technical. Now it gets a little bit easier as these flowers start to develop. You can get multiple ovaries developing in the flowers. You can see that it looks a little bit different than black cohosh or a lot different depending on your skills and then we see the fruit starts to develop in clusters rather than in single portions and as they dry you can see that they've got multiple follicles than just the single one. Okay, in fruit, maybe not so difficult once you get an eye for it and you're trained to recognize the differences between the two species.
In flower, a little bit more difficult. Vegetatively, let me show you what it looks like. Here is American bugbane, so I don't think I need to flip back to that earlier slide for you to look at that and realize that it's almost impossible, some people say impossible, I'm pretty much in that camp – to tell the difference between American Bugbane and Black Cohosh based on the vegetative characteristics alone. In other words, if you're walking through the understory of the forest and you're looking at these tops without any reproductive structures on it, it's virtually impossible to know with 100 percent assurances what you're looking at. And so we quickly get into a slippery slope of identity. Are we actually harvesting the right plant? And let's talk a little bit about why that's important. So let's talk about Pennsylvania and the fact that American Bugbane is at the northern edge of its range.
All of these little dots that I'm pointing at are known locations for this plant and you'll see that at least in Pennsylvania, it occurs in about a six county area down in the southwestern portion of the state. It often mixes in with black cohosh on the same site within feet with one another. So it's not easy or as easy just to say, 'Well, this particular forest land has black cohosh and this particular forest has American bugbane.' No, no, no. They actually grow together on these sites. And so as we're harvesting, we may think we know what we're harvesting but we may be mistaken and in the case of American bugbane in Pennsylvania at least, this is a threatened species. So we've got this conservation issue to contend with, okay? Let's talk about another reason. When we picked that root out of the ground and against the root that's used in black cohosh, you may notice in this slide, the root is a little bit lighter in color from black cohosh. Okay, that's true but as the roots are dried, that difference goes away and it is virtually indistinguishable and so the roots can become intermixed with one another and so we can have American bugbane being mixed in with black cohosh and so the natural question is, does it matter, aside from a conservation stand point? Well, there's some work that's been going on in recent years.
This is from 2008 where people are trying to get at that very issue and they're trying to figure out, is there adulteration happening in this market. And there's a really good review of this, by the way, that was published recently written by Steven Foster I believe and I'd be glad to send that link around to people who are really interested in getting into the meat of this stuff… contact me afterwards. So the bottom line is Actaea is well known for having adulteration going on in the market place. In some cases, it's actaea from other continents. This genus does occur in Europe and China and that material could be cheaper and depending on who it is that's manufacturing, they may or may not be buying that material from elsewhere and selling it as black cohosh and some of you may be disturbed by that but that's the reality of the supply chain right now.
And so we do have this adulteration going on and then when we get specifically to this case of Actaea podocarpa, the recent research, and this is from 2007 so this has been known for about 7 years now, points to the fact that there are distinctive chemicals and in this case they've named them podocarpasides that are found in Actaea podocarpa that don't appear to be found in black cohosh. So in other words, there are different molecules. There are different chemistries associated with these two plants and if we back out and look at the bigger genus, one could postulate – and this has not been fully vetted or investigated to my knowledge – one could postulate that there's all kinds of variation going on in this genus and so this substitution of one plant for another, whether it's intentional or inadvertent is quite frankly, unacceptable, particularly in the 21 century herbal market place. And so why might we want to grow black cohosh? Well, because we can assure not only that we've got a sustainable supply chain, but because we know what we're getting, and increasingly the buyer wants to know what they're getting and the buyer will consider the consumer, yes, but will also consider the companies.
Okay, companies want to know what they're getting because this is becoming recognized as an issue – this idea that we can go out and dig black cohosh, mix it inadvertently together, put it on the supply chain and then see what happens. So we need to get the supply chain into the 21st century. And some of you may be shocked to know that many of these botanicals are not vetted in terms of their identity. And that's a real problem, and I'm a big advocate and proponent of using herbs and I find it to be a problem. If we want to make sure that consumer's herbal products are safely using correct herbs at correct dosages we have to start with the correct plant. So this is unacceptable and yet here we are in almost 2015…still depending on wild-crafted material which may or may not be accurately identified.
So moving forward, are people growing black cohosh? Well, this is a shade garden from Ontario. There's a fellow up there by the name of John Kurshaw and I'll show you a picture of him in a moment but I saw some folks that are tuning in from Ontario, Canada and I'm wondering if they're associated with any of these growers, but essentially the folks that grow ginseng and some other herbs up there have been playing around with this crop for a few years now. This is a slide I took while visiting John a couple of years ago. And uh, looking at how quickly you can grow black cohosh, what the yields look like, what the economics look like and so on. And what they're finding is that you can get a harvest in, like I said, about four years.
That may be three years as far as I know right now but we're still looking at about a four year time frame so you can force the plants a little bit and you can see that they do grow quite well under artificial shade. And this is John growing in a crop of three year old plants. You can see that they're reproducing already at three years. In a forested environment, sometimes it will take 5, 6, or more years before they start to produce flowering tops…sometimes much longer than that. And so the plants do respond very well to this idea of horticulture – taking the plants out of the forest, putting them in raised beds, irrigating them, fertilizing them and so on. The bottom line though with this kind of production is that you still have to cover the cost of the artificial shade that you see above John's head as well as all that mechanized production. And my last conversation with John and I think this is born out to be true is that the economics on this type of intensive production, even though the yields were up and the quality of the plants was improved, that the economics just did not work out and so there's very little of this type of production happening. So, there's been dabbling in other words like trying to grow black cohosh under artificial shade just like we grow some of the other plants like ginseng but a lot of people have backed away from it simply on the account of the economics.
It's not really working out to be as favorable as you might hope. So we run into this problem of cultivation under artificial shade actually panning out. Okay and here's some plants here – different ages under this artificial shade environment. So, you might ask yourself then – and there's me, in case you're wondering what I might look like…that was a while ago. But that was a black cohosh plant that I dug out of some trial I had going on under some trees and basically I put this slide up because people have been playing around with the yield estimates and trying to figure out well what if we push these plants and we get these higher yields, can't we change the economics? Can't we turn it on in and all of a sudden because our yields are better, we're making more money or at least we could get by with less price because we're not putting as many plants into a pound if you will. And so, we included that in this paper and again I would ask that you look at the details so you get the highlights here and you can talk to me afterwards, but what we found out was that we calculated the amount of increase above our yield that we got in our models so in other words, what we used to calculate our pricing and our yields, that sort of stuff in the models.
We calculated how much you would need to increase those yields to break even and that's using a discount rate of 4 percent. Okay, I didn't talk about that at all yet, but for those of you who know economics basically that means, you have to wait some amount of years to get a return off your investment right? And so four percent is a really low rate of investment return and so we used a really minimal kind of rate and set that aside for a moment and just look at these yields. What you'll see is that, when you're looking at something like black cohosh, at that minimum price that we found from 1990-2005, remember, that was about a dollar. You would need about 71 times the yield increase as to what we used in these models in order to break even, not just to make money from seed and 64 times from transplants and if you look at the maximum price about three dollars, so 24 times. So, in other words if you were to grow this stuff and you were to say, Okay, I'm going to push these plants, I'm going to get a greater yield.
Each root is going to weigh a pound or what have you. This is what you would come up with. You would need 24 times the amount of yield than what we included in this model to actually come up with a break-even price. And so hopefully that makes sense to you. If not, take a look at the paper and again, follow up with me but the bottom line is, that's unrealistic folks. That's unrealistic. When we look at something like goldenseal…I'm going to turn my attention to goldenseal in a moment, we can see that two or three times the yield, yeah we can achieve that. We can push those plants and we can double the yield. When we start looking at black cohosh and we look at blue cohosh, 396 times the yield using those models, we're just way, way out of the league here okay? And finally, we're going to end up with American ginseng here and you'll notice, there is no increase needed in the current American ginseng market. Everybody can make money in American ginseng and we're going to come back to that in a moment.
So yeah, you can increase yields but in most cases in these models that we developed, the yields would have to improve by such a factor that it's unrealistic for many of these botanicals. So I just want you to think about that when you think about well, what if I were to use Miracle Grow on my plants – not that I'm advocating that – um, yeah, you could increase yields perhaps but that's not going to solve the problem with many of these plants. Okay, so we're going to move on to Goldenseal okay and I realize that we're almost at an hour but we're going to be going fairly quickly now because I kind of introduced all the base line information that you need to kind of orient you.And the main thing that I want to recap here is that economics are challenging for many of these forest botanicals, even though we've got a deep demand and even though we've got issues with identity and quality.
So now let's talk about goldenseal. Goldenseal is also found throughout the eastern U.S. from about Ontario to about northern Florida or thereabouts. Native forest plant, blooms very early in the spring, found in the buttercup family and as with black cohosh, stamens that are attractive. The amount of goldenseal that moves through the market is significant. It can be as much as 265,000 pounds. Again, these are minimal amounts that have been recorded. There is some amount of that that's being cultivated. We don't know how much but some percentage of that, maybe 10 – 15 percent is estimated. The prices are for the root and the top so the herb that is the tops can be sustainably harvested at the end of the season and those can be sold. You can see those fetch in between a dollar and maybe 12 dollars a pound. Recently here it's about 5 dollars a pound. The roots themselves, now we're looking a little bit better, instead of one to three dollars a pound we're somewhere up around oh say, 20 to 35 dollars a pound in recent years.
Okay so prices are jumping a little bit. But when we look at again, the same model, again we look at historic prices that were adjusted for inflation, this is 1990 – 2005 we find 18 dollars minimum 39 dollars max about 25 dollars on the average. Production from seed and transplants often times can be unprofitable. The exceptions are if you look on the end of the histograms you'll see the transplants. You'll see that if we are able to grow the plants without investing a whole lot of stock costs, without investing a whole lot in the annual costs, okay and we can push those plants to some degree and get them harvestable in let's say four years again, um we can end up with costs somewhere around 25 dollars again. And you can see that the prices in some years have been as much as 40 dollars. Now all of a sudden we're making maybe as much as 15 dollars a pound off of our harvest. Moreover, these days, some of the companies are contracting directly with the growers to grow organic certified goldenseal and they're paying a premium, maybe up to 45 or 50 dollars a pound.
So the economics are looking a little bit better for goldenseal. But here, I just want to point out that you do have to jump in and do some homework and you have to know when to sell and you have to know who to sell to. You can't think that just because you put goldenseal in the ground, you're somehow going to make money because someone paid 40 dollars 10 years ago. You gotta think about who you're going to sell to, what they're going to pay, how much they're going to buy from you and how much you can bare in terms of your costs of production. So these things need to be thought about before you jump in. Goldenseal, in short, although they're all over the place, uh if we've got some herbalists out there, try not to be offended by what I'm about to say, but in general, goldenseal is considered to be an herbal anti-biotic at least topically, it does have a very broad kind of anti-microbial, anti-fungal application.
That doesn't hold true when it's consumed internally so there's a lot of contention in the herbal practitioner world as to whether you should actually use it for things like colds and infections and that sort of stuff internally or externally, but none-the-less, it is a very potent herb. It has three main constituents and I'll come back to these in a moment, that are documented to be therapeutically useful and that is berberine, hydrastine, and canadine. Some people are growing goldenseal already and they are making some money, but again you have to be very savvy about who you're selling to, when you're harvesting and that sort of stuff. Here's Larry Harding down in Maryland. He's growing organic certified goldenseal and certainly it's not his main crop but it's something that he diversifies his ginseng operation with. And here is typically what a wild patch of goldenseal looks like coming up in the spring time and you might say, well what are you talking about? I'm talking about this little green area between the arrows. This is a patch that I do a lot of research on here in central Pennsylvania – develop yield models and so on and I'll share more about this patch in a moment with you.
And it's a colonial species, so it often once it's established in an area, if it's growing well and it likes to grow there, it will often grow on its own. It spreads on its own and it can be difficult to get rid of in the end. Every little piece of the fiber of that root, the rhizome that's left behind in the soil is capable of regenerating a new top. So it's a much easier plant to grow than black cohosh or ginseng, provided that it has ideal growing conditions. And also you'll notice growing in with this is black cohosh, so often times they'll grow on the same sites so they'll develop what we call a polyculture, better than monoculture. We can grow a lot of these botanicals side by side in the understory of the forest and diversify what we're doing.
Now, the case that Gretchin and I want to make on goldenseal here briefly is economically there is some case to be made for growing this plant. So we get into some of the issues on sustainability of course, and we also get into quality and quality is a thing that I want to hammer on for the next minute or two. At particular locations here in central Pennsylvania, I've got some patches of goldenseal that I've been harvesting from from a number of years. Years ago I got a small grant to do a harvest study and look at the timing of harvest and what the influence was on the chemistry of the plants. That is, if you were to harvest in mid-summer versus early fall, is there a difference in the berberine content. In addition to that, we looked at over three different populations, okay, so there's a third population that's not indicated here. I just indicated it with my arrow. So what we did is follow this little hollow. There's a drainage and there's three different clones of goldenseal on this site.
Remember this is a colonial plant. We harvested from each of the clones, spatially separated on different dates and had them chemically analyzed to see what the berberine, hydrastine and canadine content was. So we started with fruit production in mid-summer. This is about July 2nd or 3rd when there's fruit on goldenseal. It's often referred to as a berry, although it's a fleshy set of seeds technically. There's Steve, and he's out there harvesting and we went all the way up to senescence and this is when the plants are still visible but they're dying back yellow, okay. So, kept all those plants separated from each of those harvest stations replicated from each clone on each date harvesting three different groups of plants. So in other words you have one clone on each date and a sample three different times on each date from each clone and then doing that over the course of the season. And this is what it looks like then, harvested on July 2nd 2012 and harvested on August 7th, 2012, harvested on September 8,2012 and finally October 12th, 2012.
Okay, so from fruit production, all the way up to senescence, looked at total alkaloid content first. Okay, we'll notice here's the three colonies and what you'll notice is that total alkaloid content, generally speaking, increased okay. It increased with the harvest date. So, as you look at each of these dates, you'll notice that the histograms tend to go up and at the last date October 12th the alkaloid content was highest no matter what the colony was. Okay but you also notice that colony three had 4.7 percent alkaloid versus colony 1 at 4 percent. So there were considerable variations, more over 4.7 October 12th, let's go back to colony 1 in say August and you'll see that it was all the way down to 3.7. So one percent difference in the alkaloid content. So what am I saying here? There could be a significant variation in the percent of the alkaloids present in these medicinal plants based on simply when you harvest them and which population they come from, that is which growing conditions, which soil conditions and so on, and so through this idea of growing them in the forest through agroforestry based production, we can control this a lot better.
We can control the harvest date for example. We can control how we're growing it and what the conditions are and the clones that we're using, okay, the genetics in other words. When we look at the berberine content, we see that the berberine content generally followed the same pattern. If we want to look at some of these other medicinal compounds we can look at hydrastine and canadine. Look at the canadine here – extremely different from early season to late season content of the canadine. Hydrastine, not so much, but still different between different dates. So, I just bring this up because one of the reasons we advocate growing agroforestry based production goldenseal is because we can control the quality of the product much better. So we talked about the identity clash with black cohosh. Now we talk about the quality of it, and agroforestry and forest farming of goldenseal and some of these other forest botanicals, there's a strong case to be made that we can actually improve the quality by making sure that we're harvesting at the optimal time for the optimum medicinal benefits of these plants. In doing so, can't we collect some sort of premium for our effort and make it economically viable? We'll come back to that shortly.
I'll wrap up goldenseal just to talk about the fact that there is still some production happening in goldenseal, just like with black cohosh. People are trying to grow this under artificial shade. This is a shade garden from Canada once again. They're getting some yields that are pretty good and in many cases, two to three times what we used in the models were better. You can see the plants grow very nicely up there. A lot of producers are contracting directly with companies and they are doing this very detailed, quality assured harvesting. They're making sure to maximize the amount of berberine, hydrastine, and canadine that's present so that these companies can meet the specific quality requirements that they need for whatever they're producing. So there is an opportunity for growers to get into this market and get into the market for some of these botanicals based on the quality issue alone. So, I know it's three o'clock. I hope a few of you can stick with me for say another ten minutes just to round this out and talk about the case of American ginseng.
So adulteration and identity. We talked about quality control. Now let's talk about sustainability issue, which is a high point when we talk about American ginseng. So American ginseng is a plant that is found throughout the eastern U.S. like black cohosh and like goldenseal, often found growing on the same sites. It can be used as part of an understory polyculture, like those plants. It's a plant that, unless you develop an eye for it, really doesn't stick out till it has those red berries that you see on this particular picture. It has a variety of different stages of development I'll talk about more in a moment associated with it, and it takes many years to develop a commercial root – a minimum of five under forested conditions – a minimum of four, sometime three, under artificial shade. American ginseng you can see, this data comes to us from U.
S. Fish and Wildlife which is why we've got it up here. This is a plant that is listed in the international treaty known as CITES and we'll set that aside for a moment, but suffice it to say, out of the plants that we're talking about today, this is the most highly regulated plant. In some states there are grower programs set up and all states that have an export, a legal export there are, at the minimum, wild digger programs that are set up and licensing programs that are set up and so we have a pretty good sense of how much ginseng is actually being exported from the United States in any given year, and here you see that number, usually somewhere between 60 and 159 thousand pounds. Now, the interesting thing about American ginseng is that most of the American ginseng that we're talking about growing in forest environments ends up leaving for Hong Kong..
.somewhere between 96 and 98 percent of that American ginseng, and that's because American ginseng enjoys a niche market which many of you may be aware of that's driven by Asian consumer demand and I'll talk just briefly about that in the next few slides but we'll have to let it alone for today's purposes, but just kind of take note that because of that demand and because there's not enough of this plant to go around, the prices as you can see are off the charts compared to what we were looking at especially with black cohosh. So when we were dealing with one to three dollars for black cohosh, so now we're talking about say 250 to 575 dollars per pound between 1990 and 2005 and if you look at the same production models, no matter whether we're growing from seed or from transplant, you notice that no matter how you grow American ginseng, if you're growing it so that it looks wild, or wild-simulated and you can put it in the wild trade and sell it as such, you're making money and that's why American ginseng has been gaining so much interest, particularly in the last few years amongst forest farmers as a potential understory crop because there's no doubt that you can make money from this as long as you can back away from the idea that you're going to grow this stuff, unlike what we were just talking about with goldenseal and black cohosh, to get the biggest yield and the biggest plants – instead, we're trying to grow wild-looking roots here and if you grow wild-looking roots you can sell it as a wild plant and as a wild plant you can get these kinds of prices.
And, uh, so, if we break it down further, it's important to notice that the way that this market works is that rather than, say berberine content like we were just talking about with goldenseal, we are talking about the appearance of the root being important here. Now again, I don't have time to go into all of the reasons why this market exists, but suffice it to say that the bulk of the wild ginseng leaves the United States or it's destined for the China Towns of the United States, okay, and feeds into a demand that largely originates from traditional Chinese medicine that places a premium on wild plants – wild plants grown in their wild habitat in the native region of the plant. Beyond that, there is a whole scene that has developed over hundreds, if not thousands of years, of grading – uh, the way that these roots are graded so that they are broken up in the trade. What I've got up here for you to see is quite simply just some basic appearance differences. So on the right what you can see is a cultivated root and that's a 6 inch ruler and you'll see that cultivated roots, because we are pushing them, generally are larger roots.
They're paler in color. They've got a shorter neck, and I'm going to click on that – that is the neck. That is an underground, horizontal rhizome. Anytime that the plant dies back, and it dies back every year, it leaves a scar on that neck and those can then be used to age the plant. So when we look at the neck on a wild plant, you'll notice that it can be quite long, depending on how old the plant is. Generally speaking, the older the plant, the more it's worth and so although we can grow ginseng in the forest and harvest it after five years, most growers will wait ten, fifteen, twenty plus years to harvest their product because they can get a greater price for that. So that has to be a balance again for risk of something going wrong in that 20 years. Do you want to wait to get that 3,000 dollars after 20 years or do you want to sell it after five years at 500 dollars and call it good? Uh, that's something that every producer has to decide, especially based on some of the issues like theft that we'll come back to in a moment. In the middle we've got what's known as a woods-cultivated root.
This is when you amend the understory conditions such that you can push the plant a little bit. Maybe you're just going to work up the soil, maybe you're going to make raised beds, but that's all you're going to do. You're still going to grow it in the forest, and generally speaking, your neck is going to be somewhere between a cultivated and a wild because you're going to grow it out for five or ten years, and you'll notice that the roots all of a sudden look different. They look a little bit more like a human. They've got some scars on them – they're little lines. We call those stretch rings, okay. It's got a little darker color. Notice again that six inch ruler. The yields are going to be better on the woods cultivated than they are going to be on the wild or wild simulated. They're both going to be less than what you would get on a cultivated plant. The prices on the other hand, in recent years except the last two years, a cultivated root has been somewhere between five and thirty dollars.
That price has jumped in the last couple of years up to about 70 dollars a pound. On the other hand, your wild and wild-simulated root had an average of somewhere around 225 to about a thousand dollars a pound or more in recent years. Okay, so we are talking about plenty of difference based on where it's grown and how the product eventually looks in the end. Now this is a picture from China Town, New York. You can see this is cultivated root. If you're walking through, this is the kind of thing you'll see. It's all graded out into different grades of cultivated root. Um, this is about a hundred dollars a pound that it's retailing for and then, if you go over to the wall you're going to see the stuff in the glass case, and this is the stuff we're trying to grow either for domestic China Town markets or for export. You'll notice all of a sudden the prices are 238 dollars. You might say, well, you just said they were a 1000 dollars.
Well, this is an ounce, okay. This is an ounce. And the top grade stuff up here was about 550 dollars. Okay so the prices are much different when we're talking about forest grown American ginseng. And we're trying to replicate that wild-appearing product and grow for this niche market that is driven by Asian consumers. Because there is not enough of this plant to go around it's been exported from the United States and we have clear records of this from states such as Pennsylvania for about 300 years. All states have these programs set up to help manage and conserve this plant. All states are trying to grapple with how those programs are working or lack there of. And so one of my projects here in Pennsylvania was to work with the state of Pennsylvania on figuring out what that mechanism looks like but also working with them to figure out how can allow for transparent development of agroforestry based ginseng production. In other words, how do people sell into this wild market and report that there is such without being penalized in some way. In other words, people could be price-gouged because of what they report or if they reveal to buyers that they're growing, sometimes those buyers will, believe it or not, send people out to poach them or thieve from them.
So we've got issues that we've got to sort out and I'll get back to that in a moment. But all states are trying to figure out how best to manage ginseng. So if you are out there listening at this point and you're interested in growing ginseng, you've got ginseng on your property, you're interested in growing commercially and harvesting commercially, the first thing you should do if you haven't done it already is figure out what your state ginseng program is, what the requirements are and so on. Some states have programs already set up for growers. Other states like Pennsylvania do not. As I mentioned, and I won't get into the details here, I'll point to a paper in a moment and you all can read up this about ginseng is one of the most heavily regulated of the plants that we're talking about.
It is one of the most heavily regulated plants in North America. It has been listed since 1975 in an International treaty – the same treaty that governs things like the trade in ivory and rhinocerous horn and all that sort of stuff and because of that there's this trickle down. It goes through the US Fish and Wildlife down to the state level where every state that has an export program has to have a management program, a dealer licensing program. In some cases they have digger permits and so on and one of the things that exists right now through this trickle down effect to US Fish and Wildlife, who has to approve the export of American ginseng from the United States on an annual basis – they basically have a five year rule in place. It's been in place since 1999 that changed briefly in 2006 to ten years but it was backed off and put back to five years.
Basically, the intention of that, although a lot of people don't agree with it, there's some signs that suggest that it may not be the best mechanism, but the idea there is that with a five year neck-scar rule, you're trying to ensure that people aren't harvesting younger plants from the wild. That's the intention and whether that works or not is open to debate. The reality is, that means as a grower, you need to have those necks on the root, because the buyers want those necks intact so that they can sell those roots out of the country. Their root export can be rejected if they were inspected and found that they did not have those necks on tops of roots. Now, the issue that we face with ginseng and a digression that I'm going to talk about – we can make money with ginseng, there is no shortage of demand. We do have some regulations to abide by, but the issue that we have with ginseng is that with all this regulation in place, with the high prices and with this issue that we associate with sustainability, we also have what we would call the theft and the poaching element, okay? And this has only been amplified in the last year and I'll talk a little bit about that in a moment, but this paper is going to come around.
I encourage you to look at this and I encourage you to think about what this means. This is just a case study of what we did here in Pennsylvania to look at, are these specific regulations working? Okay, and if not, what can we do to improve them? And one of the things that came from this study was that there was tremendous support from the bottom up, from the grassroots up for people to see the government invest in supporting growers and grower programs and grower markets, and that's because there is no shortage of demand. What we need are a variety of different research questions and seed supply issues resolved so that people can grow this plant to meet the demand. And so, there is regulation. It is more or less effective. This is one study that we did in Pennsylvania on whether it's effective. In short I'll just say that people feel like it's a good idea but it's less effective than people actually growing this plant to meet part of the demand.
Because it is CITES listed, we have a good sense of how much of this stuff is reported. It's not always reported but we have this data of how much is exported on an annual basis. This is from Pennsylvania and every state has this kind of stuff. In general, the trend is downwards. In general, we have a lot of plants that are being harvested. When we take an average number of roots per pound for wild or wild-simulated product which in Pennsylvania is about 200 plants per pound, we're looking at, in any given year, somewhere between 100,000 to as much as a million plants they harvested and sold into the wild trade. And if we look at other states, okay, this is just a snap shot at what's happening in some of the other states, you can see that generally speaking, the trends are downwards. Okay and again, we have this notion that maybe these plants are in trouble, okay and maybe we need to grow more of them because we're just not seeing the amount that used to be there, say in the 90's, there anymore.
What's the price doing? Well, that's a difficult question to answer in a quick slide, but I'm going to try and do it. The price depends on the age and the appearance of the roots. Bottom line. Okay, and the age and the appearance is all over the place depending on what you grow and where you sell it. But on average up through 2013 we're looking at a price of about 650 dollars a pound. This past year, about last month, it was up to 900 dollars a pound. Okay, cultivated prices typically are down around 40 dollars a pound and that's up. So, prices are up for both commodities. There is no shortage of demand for ginseng and a large part of that is due to a lack of supply but also a large part of it is due to the growing Chinese economy and the ability of the Chinese consumer to pay for ginseng from North America. Most of the American ginseng is grown under these artificial shade structures in places like Ontario, Canada.
A lot of these growers are very good at what they do. There's no doubt about it. The yields have been exponentially increased above what you might find in wild or wild-simulated patches, but it is a very pesticide intensive process and for that reason many consumers, maybe some of you out there, don't like to consume cultivated American ginseng because, specifically, it requires lots of fungicides and this is a problem that growers in forest lands can run into if they're not careful as well. Each one of these palates is from a warehouse from a grower in Ontario, Canada. Each one of these palates has a different type of fungicide that is applied because very quickly, in the space of three or four years, we could get fungal resistance to these fungicides, so we have to rotate through each of these different classes of fungicides. Does it bother you that something you would take as an adaptogen or a tonifying plant is so pesticide intensive? It may or may not. It bothers me and avoid it like the plague, but none-the-less, this is the way that the bulk of American ginseng is grown not only here in North America but in China where they are growing American ginseng as well. What we want to focus on is this forest-based production and there are a lot of different ways to do this.
Let me just introduce you very quickly to a couple of different ways of the growers who are doing this. This is growing in the understory of the forest. This is woods-cultivated method…thinning out a lot of the understory vedge, selecting for crop trees, seeding it in and then mulching it, or letting the natural canopy leaves fall down and then growing those plants out. This is Denny on the right-hand side who is growing it like this and this is what his crop looks like, okay, growing in the forest. Now they still have to use fungicides because as you can see, those plants are literally on top of one another. So the more you push those plants, like the growing in the field or a monoculture, the more you're going to run into fungus issues and that's a major issue for growers in the forest.
But he grows beautiful plants. There's no denying that and those plants are typically put on the market as a wild-simulated or woods-cultivated product that sells into the wild market. American ginseng grows over time through a variety of different stages. It can takes, as I said four or five years to reach the minimum of five year, four-prong stage growth and it's something to be cognizant about. Okay, it's not just something you plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. And because of that, we've got all of these issues to deal with as we're growing it in forests and so, I'm going to wind this thing down by talking about what the issue is with American ginseng. We've got a market. We've got good prices. We've got a regulatory framework that largely we can work within…just kind of being revamped in many of these states on behalf of the growers.The problem that we're running into is that many growers are becoming targets for thieves. Not poachers, but thieves..
.people who are intentionally seeking out the growers and going along there and stealing. This is just one example of a letter I put up that I received a few years ago from one grower. This has only been heightened within the last year by shows that you might be aware of like this one from the History Channel, Appalachian Outlaws, which is a show about, in the name of entertainment, how to steal ginseng from your neighbor. Okay, and then this one started airing in the fall. This is on the National Geographic Channel of all places. This is where we pit four teams of people against one another to see who can dig the most ginseng. Okay, and by the way, apparently ginseng is so secretive that you have to wear camouflage and carry a shot gun in order to harvest it and find it. That's a joke. And because of that, we get into situations like this. This is a case in Ohio. You can find some data on this…2013. Well, this gentleman had been poached since 1973 six times and in 2011 he ended up shooting a poacher and that poacher died and he was caught and he was convicted and unfortunately, this fellow is 78 years old and not probably going to live the rest of his days in a happy place and all for protecting his crop.
This happens. I'm not going to say it's wide-spread, but it happens and so any grower of ginseng is struggling with these issues and I'll just have to leave it there, but the bottom line is if you are interested in growing ginseng, this is something that you'll have to consider: how to deal with theft. How to deal with poaching. You don't just put it out there on the back 40 and go back in 10 years. You've got to attend to this issue. And the other issue you have to attend to is where are you going to get the seed from? If you don't have the plants already on your property, you've got to deal with this issue. Below the beer donations can here, we see a typical buyer's refrigerator selling seed. All of this seed typically comes from Wisconsin or Ontario these days. A lot of people are concerned about whether those genetics are well-adapted to their forest lands or not, or what that means for the future of ginseng if we continue to harvest out all of our truly wild genetics and replace it with cultivated genetics.
That's a whole big can of worms that we could sit here and talk another hour about, but it is something to think about. Where is your seed going to come from? Where is your planting spot going to come from? It's increasingly…the wild stuff is becoming scarce and the cultivated stuff is becoming the norm. And finally, the issue that we're dealing with here is how do you as a grower become recognized? One of the things I've been working on here in Pennsylvania is survey….trying to figure out how many growers are out there? And what we've been finding is that when you ask people that are out there planting ginseng. Here in Pennsylvania we had 290 people respond to a survey that we put out there a few years ago. About three quarters of them said they were planting in small, uncrowded forest plantings.
In Pennsylvania, we do not have a program that successfully differentiates those growers in the wild market, and because of that, growers face wild regulations in most states, and so this is something that you have to think about as well. What is the program in your state? As I mentioned earlier, that's something that you need to do your homework about. But you also need to consider, do I have to abide by those – those wild regulations or are there exemptions or programs in place for me to be able to harvest whenever I want, for example, instead of abiding by the wild-harvest season which may be September first. And finally, you have to figure out, what if I'm dealing with poaching issues. Who do I report to in the state of Pennsylvania for example, our DCNR who has jurisdiction over ginseng in the state of Pennsylvania – they do not have enforcement authority over private lands.
Instead, we have to deal with local and state police and so as a result, our growers are often confused as to how they go about interfacing with the law enforcement community when they're having issues. And so this is all a way of saying that even with a forest-farmed crop like ginseng, where we have good economics, a good supply, a good demand, we still have issues that we need to work out with these crops and all of these issues are often state specific or specific to your area whether you have a well-known theft or poaching problem that you have to contend with. Now finally, this is my last slide for those of you who have hung in there. I appreciate it. I'm going to talk about just briefly what's happening. To deal with all of these issues we've been talking about, one of the things that's being piloted right now that we've been working on for the last four years in Pennsylvania is a new verification program.
And you can think of this as a certification program like certified organic but we use the term 'verified' and that's at the request of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service because ginseng, for example, is already certified at the state level before it's exported from the state. So it gets very confusing if we use the same lexicon. This is set up as a third party verification program for growers of these forest botanicals to be able to have their crop documented, to have it documented not only for purposes of posterity, but in cases of poaching or theft, to have their crop documented. In cases here in Pennsylvania, we're dealing with a natural gas spilling explosion and we have issues with the natural gas companies who want to frack on people's forest lands and they have ginseng plantings there.
It won't necessarily stop them but they can get the value of their crop, if it's recognized as a crop, but the other thing that we're piloting with this program and we're in the first year of doing this specifically with ginseng but looking to expand this with some of these other botanicals like goldenseal and black cohosh next year, is that we have companies on the west coast some of you may recognize Herb Pharm and Mountain Rose Herbs. These companies are interested in buying from forest-based producers of these plants under this program because the consumers of these botanicals are increasingly becoming concerned about issues that I've just laid out there in the last hour, okay, and because of that, we're trying to develop a quality assurance, identity assurance and sustainability assurance with this program that can be rolled out and can be recognized in the market place amongst consumers and in doing so, hopefully garner a premium for people who want to grow black cohosh and be able to make some money at it.
And so the companies that we're working with right now, Mountain Rose and Herb Pharm are interested in connecting with growers and if you're a grower out there who is growing some of these plants, I would encourage you to contact me afterwards. I'd be glad to talk with you about this program and connect you with those companies, because what we're finding is there's a strong interest in consumers getting connected with this and the buyers working at the conduit for this but we need to connect the growers up with the whole supply chain at this point. Okay, now this program doesn't just operate in Pennsylvania by the way. It operates in all of the eastern states and in fact can operate in all of the lower 48 states. It is simply administered by Pennsylvania Certified Organic, but they're contracting with inspectors in different states to actually do the on-the-ground inspection work and keep the costs to a minimum for the actual producers. And so, I'll be glad to talk with anyone further or send them links to information about this, but it's an exciting time because there's some struggling with a lot of these issues, whether it's the economics of production or the identity or quality assurances that come from the consumers or consumer concerns.
This is an exciting time because we've got programs that are now emerging, this is only one of them, that are aiming to kind of fill in the gap and start to connect some of the supply chain, start to connect the growers of some of these forest botanicals with the consumers either directly, or through a variety of different middle men or companies. And so, I would encourage you not to be dismayed by what I put out there but rather to think carefully about it and do your homework and think about some of the new stuff that's coming up like verification programs and these marketing programs which are seeking to connect the producers directly with the consumers much like local vegetable farmers and flower farmers and that sort of stuff that have been connected with local consumers. So with that, I appreciate you hanging in, I know I went over. It's a lot to cover but hopefully you got something from it. I will stick around and be happy to stick around to handle any kind of questions you might have for me immediately. Okay, I'm seeing some questions that have been funneled to me from those hanging in there – not just because the question has been posed by you but because you're waiting to hear what the questions might be.
I don't know if you can see them, so I'm going to read them out as I answer them. The first question I see is, "So when starting forest farming you feel that it would be good to do a natural resources assessment in one's forest to help determine the conditions and the crops that would match the conditions?" That's a great question and I would say that is absolutely the first step. So in other words, the first thing you should do if you're interested in forest farming…we talked specifically about medicinal plants today but we could be easily talking about mushrooms. We could be easily talking about ramps, both of which were covered as a part of this series. It all comes down to getting to know your forest first and foremost and that, unfortunately, is a big part where people turn away and if you're one of those people who is not interested in getting out there and getting your hands dirty, and getting a field guide out there and start to figure out what those darn things are that are growing out there and start to figure out, you know, what the soil conditions are and what the different kind of nooks and crannies that are present where you could grow ramps on one area and maybe ginseng on the other, then you really should probably bow out right now because that's the one thing that keeps a lot of people out of this industry is they're just looking for a kind of cookie-cutter kind of crop.
Right? You just fill up the ground in the spring time, just plant the seeds and then harvest in the fall. We're talking about crops that have very exact locations in some cases of where they grow. Once you find those locations, they will grow like weeds in many cases and naturalize if they're not already present in natural populations, okay and they take multiple years to grow. And so it becomes and exercise not only in patience but it becomes an exercise in doing your homework and making sure that you're learning about that forested environment, but what I often say to folks is that it's like a gateway drug…it's a situation where, once you start to get interested in ginseng for example and you start to look around for that ginseng, all of a sudden you're saying, 'huh, what is this? Oh, my goodness, this is blue cohosh. I wonder what this is good for. Then you'll say, what's this? This is wild geranium.' Next thing you know, you're paying attention and learning about all that the forest has to offer which is an amazing cornucopia of things, okay and some of it may be just, isn't that interesting and some of it may be commercially viable but eastern forests and western forests as well are amazing ecosystems and you can really find that you develop not only a source of income but really a life's pursuit just learning about your forest lands and getting out there and getting engaged with these crops and these plants.
So your first step should be doing an assessment and each state, there's a variety of different ways you can go about that. I'll just throw out one thing really quickly is that in most states, there are extension agencies you're probably aware of and at least in Pennsylvania and most eastern states is part of that extension. We have service foresters and these are foresters that are provided by your tax dollars to forest land owners that can come out and walk through your forest land and develop a written management plan for that forest over story and in some cases, I'd like to say increasingly, for the understory as well. It used to be that a lot of those foresters were only interested in the timber but increasingly they're becoming interested in all of the forest including the understory conditions and the products that are found there. The next question I'm seeing, "How does needle cast affect these plants and herbs?" I'm not sure what that means, needle cast.
..so Jack, if you want to clarify if you're still there, I'll be glad to answer that. MacKenzie: I think he means pine needles. Burkhart: Oh, thank you! So, that's part of, going back to what I just answered. That's part of learning what your forest is like because some plants, some botanicals, we didn't talk about any of them today but there are botanicals that grow on forest lands that love pine forests for example or hemlock forests or forests that don't have leaf litter because they are drowned by the leaf litter there – the organic matter there versus other plants like ginseng, we were talking about, which like rich, deciduous forest lands. So in some cases, the needles being cast, if it's a dense enough casting, all those needles falling off – they will create a mat. I know on my own property here, I've got a lot of white pine. Over years, they will build up a mat of over six to twelve inches of nothing but pine needles. As those pine needles decompose, they tend to acidify the soil.
They tend to prevent moisture from seeping through during rain events or snow events and so you get into ultra-dry conditions and those kinds of conditions are not conducive to things like ginseng but they may be fine for other plants which is partridgeberry for example or pink lady's slipper. So, it may or may not be detrimental. It depends on which species you're interested in. So I've got Robert Vanwar says, "SC, who do we contact?" I'm not sure what SC means. MacKenzie: "South Carolina" South Carolina, who do we contact for what purposes? I'll let you chime back in there if you're still there. It looks like you are…about contact information. Kyle, "Since NTFPs are so easy to steal, they're a lot like fish. There's been a lot of research done on fisheries governance that may be useful for NTFP governance.
" Kyle, that's an excellent point and I avoid that kind of academic talk in a presentation like this. We already have enough to fit in, but certainly, if you look at the paper that's going to be coming around about the CITES, the trickle down effect…there's some case studies in there that I site and as part of my work – that was done as part of my PhD work – certainly got into a lot of that whole governance of the commons, if you will. How people manage resources in the commons and so on and it's not all bad news. We tend to think that if we leave people to their own will, they'll wipe it out. That's not always the case. A lot of times people can come together and figure out a perfectly sustainable, economically viable governance strategy for resources and that is often true here in the case of non-timber forest products. You just don't here about it a lot, but I'll just give you a really quick example of that. Here in Pennsylvania, I have dealt with growers that have come together in particular areas to keep an eye after one another's property because of the whole poaching issue.
So in other words, they know when I'm going on vacation, I'm not saying me, specifically, but you get the idea…when I'm going on vacation, my neighbors kind of keep an eye on my property and see any cars parked or if someone's coming out of the woods, that sort of stuff. So, there's this idea that, even in the case of poaching, if you can work with your neighbors, if you've got trustworthy neighbors, they can actually be your eyes and ears on the ground when you can't be and vise versa. You can be their eyes and ears. That's a type of governance strategy that is very easy to accomplish if you have good neighbors that you can trust and I know that a lot of the time, that's an if. I don't see any other questions so anybody else want to throw something out there or are we done for the afternoon? I think we're probably done.
We're about 40 minutes over but thank you all for staying and I hope you enjoyed it and then stay tuned for next year. We'll have some more webinars lined up. I don't know yet what they're going to be. I'm going to enjoy Christmas but I'll figure it out so we'll have some more good stuff for you. Thanks everybody..