Ginseng yields vary

By Michael-Allan Marion, Brantford Expositor

Ontario ginseng growers are proving themselves a hardy bunch as they manage to grow their industry and the number of members while enduring the uncertainties of weather.

Yields were strong again this year for the 160 members of the Ontario Ginseng Growers Association, even though they suffered yet another spring frost that chairman Remi Van De Slyke has said is becoming “a new normal” in the industry.

“It wasn’t as severe as two years ago but it was noticeable,” Van De Slyke, who became the association’s new chairman in the spring, said in an interview.

He was referring to an almost legendary killer frost in the spring of 2015 that wreaked havoc with the operations of growers in Norfolk, Brant, Oxford and Elgin counties, particularly in just-planted beds that sprouted that year.

Those beds were either devastated or the root began life stunted.

Ginseng takes four years to reach full maturity and growers hope to nurture its progress through all four years to get the best yields. But the plantings that started in 2015 are now two years old. They are stunted and farmers will have to carry them for another two years at least, said Van De Slyke. The frost affected other years, too, to a lesser extent.

“So that frost we felt two years ago, we’re still feeling the effects of it.”

But ginseng growers have had to adapt often to the vagaries of weather, he said. Last year, they had to contend with excessive heat and this past spring, the frost affected some farmers, particularly in the Delhi area.

Also this year, “we were getting either excessive rain or extreme drought depending on where the growers are and the month we’re talking about,” he said.

“Our farmers are able to deal with it, though. We always get a good quality crop. It’s just the yields that are variable from year to year.”

As the harvest progresses this fall, yields are varying from one operation to the next.

“It’s one of the most inconsistent years we’ve had.”

The association represents producers who grow, harvest and sell the root of Panax quinquefolius, the world’s most prized ginseng.

In 2017, Ontario growers have a collective 8,000 acres under cultivation, counting acreage across all four years. The number of growers has been increasing after a decline five years ago from more than 200 to as low as 120.

“With new growers coming in, it shows the market has been good, solid in the past few years.”

While it’s too soon yet to report firm numbers, Van De Slyke said growers can expect the market to perform much the same as last year with the same price ranges for variable grades of root.

One reason is that the association, trading under the name Ginseng Ontario, has developed better marketing arrangements with partners overseas who specifically market Ontario Ginseng, he said.

“It’s starting to pay dividends.”