I've been cruising Wildgrown for a while, and have finally signed up to take part. First of all, I would like to thank everyone for their comments on this forum. Your conversations have certainly provided an education to me (and many others, I'm sure).
At any rate, I'm located in Clay County Kentucky (the mountains in the southeastern portion of the state, for those of you not familiar with KY geography). I've dug my share of wild ginseng while growing up, and have seriously considered planting some seed for wild-simulated production this year.
I've got to be honest, though: I'm a little bit nervous in planting ginseng for a couple of reasons. First, it seems to me that wild-simulated should bring a premium as compared to cultivated ginseng, but at the end of the day I'd still be selling undifferentiated product into a commodity market. That lack of control over my market is worrisome.
I'm also a little disturbed at the idea of growing a crop whose main export market is as tightly regulated as that of ginseng. From what I've always understood, the main driver of the ginseng market is Asian buyers. If something were to happen that export sales were ended by USFWS, however, I imagine the legal market would dry up. The thought of having that much time invested in a crop only to be forbidden from selling it is just not palatable to me.
I think I might have hit upon a way to get around these problems, but I was hoping to receive your input. In short, I was thinking about a certification process for wild-simulated ginseng in order to bring a premium price in the United States.
Many of the items that command premium prices in today's market have undergone a certification process of some sort. Items that immediately come to mind are lumber products (Forestry Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative), food (USDA Organic, Certified Naturally Grown, Animal Welfare Approved), and coffee (Fair Trade, Shade Grown). These growers are using some aspect of their product to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Put another way, these producers are selling their story, not their product.
The way I envisioned the process, wild-simulated growers could sign up for voluntary certification. Ginseng to be certified could not be purchased from \"the man off the street,\" but only from established growers who are able to prove that they are actually growing 'seng in wild-simulated conditions. The goal would then be to identify a domestic market that would pay premium prices for a sustainably grown product. Selling points could include conservation of wild ginseng, maintaining natural forest cover, older roots grown in natural soil (as compared to cultivated ginseng), chemical-free production, social benefits of purchasing American roots from American growers, or any other number of benefits.
The goal then would be to sell these benefits to Americans who would value them. That would get us around the exporting issue while commanding a premium price. We would get a good market, and the end customer would get a product that they could feel good about. Seems like a win-win situation to me!
What do you all think? I realize the two biggest obstacles will be forming a certification board the growers are comfortable with, and creating a market for \"certified sustainable ginseng.\" I think it's possible, but I would like to know what you all think about it.
The first big red flag in your plan that I see (a good idea I think overall) is that most of the growers out there will absolutely refuse any sort of registration no matter what the purpose or form. Ginseng growers have to be pretty tight lipped in order to grow a crop without it being poached. Some take this to an extreme.
I think you are wise to consider the realistic hazards to growing ginseng. The stroke of a pen is all that it would take to end legal harvest of wild or wild simulated ginseng in the entire United States. Consider the situation in Ontario where they are not permitted to plant ginseng in the woods at all because it was determined that this would take space which could otherwise support truly wild roots.
I have also considered various marketing angles, and have some things in the works. I therefore necessarily think you are heading in the right direction.
I also think that would be the biggest hurdle, and that's why I was hoping to get your insight into the issue.
I have thought of a couple of ways to potentially get around the issue, though. First of all, the certification board would need to be completely third-party, and made up of people the growers were comfortable with. For instance, the board could be composed of three extension personnel, three active growers, three seed suppliers, and two regulators (either state or federal). The growers who wish to take part in the certification process would vote annually on the individuals who would fill the positions, and thus represent their best interests.
I feel like the best certification model might be an inspection, but I know a lot people might throw on the brakes before allowing that to happen. Heck, I might as well if I had been planting several pounds for the last five years or so. Poaching is a real concern.
Rather than inspection, however, what about proof of seed purchase? That might not help some of the folks who have been growing for a while, but going forward it may be an option to show the board a copy of seed receipts.
At any rate, I appreciate the input, I'm just throwing around ideas to see if there might be a way for us to be better compensated for our time and effort.
I'm sure that if you do some research on this site, there wiil be some answers to your thrust on marketing.
By and large, What I've read on the marketing direction you suggust, is that some [many?] folks would be resistive to the sort of certification process. What BCastle wrote rings true.
Now, keeping really good records so that you can market your grown root better than someone that is finding/digging root, is a good option. If you can demonstrate to a reputable dealer/buyer that you have grown your root under the best wild-sim circumstances, and show all the care and love you've given the process... you might be able to get a better price on your crop.
I have looked over the considerations, and I just don't think we can possibly prosper unless we join together. I realize that certification might be a big step for some folks, but I also think that is the only way to access a truly sustainable market.
I realize your concern, Whitjr, but I'm just not convinced that any individual grower will,be able to command enough market share to \"move the needle\" in any significant manner.
In the big scheme of things, I think we are threatened less by poachers than by market forces. As it stands, we do not have any recourse for our market except what is provided for us by the export market, and that lack of control scares me to death. I would like to see this imbalance of power change, and I think the quickest way to accomplish this is for our growers to band together in a cooperative marketing agreement.
Again, I don't think any one grower can leverage this market...I think it will take several growers working in concert.
That said, thanks for your input! I'm tickled to share m thoughts with someone else...
OK. Everyone has their own opinion.... wouldn't change that for anything! It's a free country!
Since you've been collecting wild-harvested 'sang... you have likely met others doing this.
Did these folks seem like they wanted to band together?
IMHO_ growers are different. We who grow the plants are much more likely to discuss things, form a consensus, and arrive at consistant method.
Not to be contentious, however, I must disagree with you on the moving of the market by an individual grower..... I can name one grower that has shifted the whole business: His name is HSU. That's one grower that is so big as to be his own international consortium. His business has not only moved the needle, his business has \"pegged\" the needle.
One good reason to band together, again IMHO, is to take effective measures against poaching. there are several of us growers that have been subjected to this illegal activity. Please see recent posts about this. I'm not one of them [hopefully will never be one] However those of we growers that have been poached, have offered method to deter these lousy poachers. This is invalueable to the rest of us.
However this is not a certification process as you mentioned. It's more of a survival method.
Can you define what you mean by \"undifferentiated product\"??? I find this a bit ambigious and am asking for your context. I find your discussion very interesting, and am glad to interact.
Can you define what you mean by \"undifferentiated product\"??? I find this a bit ambigious and am asking for your context.
I was just referring to the commodity nature of the ginseng business. After it is sold, I think my 'seng probably goes into the same sack as your ginseng. I would rather have some mechanism in which my product was differentiated in some way from all of the other root being sold on the market.
I'm coming at this from a livestock farming perspective, because that's where much of my experience lies. My family and I realized several years ago that we had to differentiate our product if we were going to turn a decent profit from the farm. That being the case, we transitioned away from selling calves on the open market to selling a differentiated product (grass fed, antibiotic-free meat). We had always produced our animals using these methods, but we had not been financially compensated for doing so until we differentiated our product. And for us, highlighting our differentiated product dramatically improved our farm's profit margin. I think differentiating wild-simulated ginseng could have some of the same benefits.
That's what I was trying to get at with this discussion. I would like to see some way of increasing the value of a grower's ginseng because it is wild simulated. In fact, I think wild-simulated root could be more valuable than wild root. For instance, the pitch could go like this - buy wild-simulated ginseng, it has all the benefits of wild ginseng but it also ________________ (fill in the blank with: preserves wild ginseng populations, is fully sustainable, provides a living wage to rural Americans, provides incentive to preserve native forest. If I have learned one thing from operating a business, it is this: folks will compensate you for providing a product that aligns with their beliefs.
I think the important part is to identify a market that has definite convictions about some of these issues, and then make the case as to why wild-simulated is better (and therefore more valuable) than wild. Granted, customer education and identification would be a big part of making this possible. That's the beauty of the internet, however - market identification and education have never been easier than they are right now.
I started this thread off by talking about certification, but that probably isn't the only way to reach this goal. Branding from an individual company might be just as effective, and a lot easier to implement. I think the most critical issue is that we identify wild-simulated as being different, but better.
I am a grower in Ontario Canada, and as Brad has said we are not allowed to plant wild ,wild sim. or woods grown.
We can only plant cultivated under \"shade canopy\" and we must join the OGGA, Ontario Ginseng Growers Association to be accredited as a cultivated grower.
The reason was because of the reclassification from protected species to endangered. As a result planting in the wild was \"considered to be detrimental to the survival of the wild population\" as per CITES.
This all started in the 80's. The writing was on the wall and by the mid 80's I could not get an export license for my roots. We tried to educate the government for years, I was invited to send my thoughts to a commitee in Ottawa that would be attending a CITES conference in Europe in the early 90's. The conference reclassified wild ginseng as Endangered in Canada.
We could have been a source to recon with if we wild growers would have joined forces and made our own Ontario Wild Simulated Ginseng Growers Association. But to many wanted to lay low for fear of poachers.
Sort of funny they lost their crop to their own fears. This is just like what I hear coming from everyone in the United States.
CITES is a WORLD WIDE organisation and if your country classes wild as endangered or they do your Counrty is obliged to come up with a plan to ensure it does not become extinct, and with the changes that I see coming down you'll all be in the same boat.
Many experts in the USA wild ginseng industry agree with the above.
The only one to benefit will be the field growers because wild growers will be gone.