NOTICE: Hard copies of the Australian New Crops Newsletter are available from the publisher, Dr Rob Fletcher. Details of availability are included in theAdvice on Publications Available.
[The reader's attention is also directed to the crop profile on ginseng by Dr Anne Kitchener, later in this issue]
Ginseng (Panax spp.) is a deciduous perennial herb of the Araliaceae family with adaptogenic properties. It grows naturally in heavily wooded areas of Asia and North America. The root lives for many years, even though the stem and foliage die back to ground level at the end of each growing season.
Ginseng has been a major component in traditional Oriental medicine for over 4000 years. Its earliest written reference, Shen Nung's Materia Medica, dates at around AD l96. Ginseng is widely used as a medicinal herb in Tibet, Manchuria, China and Korea, and it's efficaciousness as a tonic has ensured its virtual extinction as a wild plant.
Ginseng today is found mainly in two forms, that is Panax ginseng (Korean or Chinese ginseng) and Panax quinquefolium (American or Canadian ginseng). These two 'cousin plants' vary primarily due to climatic and growing conditions but both contain active ingredients called ginsenosides.
American ginseng is one of the world's best kept secrets. Ginseng has been traditionally known as an Asian herb, so many people are surprised to learn that it is also a native American plant. In fact, nearly all the world's supply of wild ginseng is located in the United States. Ginseng cultivation has become a reclusive multi-million dollar business in North America.
In 1982, the government of British Columbia in Canada, successfully trialled ginseng as a crop in the arid reaches of the Fraser River Valley. In the last ten years, the production in that area of Canada has begun to rival the large production from Ontario and Wisconsin in the USA. In 1995, the combined USA and Canadian production exceeded 2.5 million kilograms.
The Oriental countries produce ginseng in tonnage that dwarfs the North American production. Ninety-five percent of this world-wide harvest is consumed in the Asian marketplace. With the opening of the Chinese market for American ginseng, and with dwindling supplies of wild ginseng, the major North American growing regions have registered a massive 400 percent increase in production over the last 10 years. It is estimated that by the year 2000, the total production will at least have doubled.
Because of this increased production, the price of field-cultivated ginseng has experienced a drop in market prices but is expected to level out over the next four years. This will make it very difficult for new growers to compete with established growers in the United States and Canada. Even now, it is virtually impossible for smaller growers to compete with large publicly-traded corporate growers in British Columbia.
On the other hand, there is a dwindling supply of wild American ginseng and a slow increase in the production of woods-grown and wild-simulated ginseng. There has therefore been a large rise in market prices for these types of root. Wild and good quality wild-simulated ginseng has realised more than $1000 per dried kilogram in the latest sales. It is easy to understand why ginseng is referred to as the world's most lucrative legal crop.
Since January l985, Panax quinquefolium has been cultivated on the floor of a bush block in the Dandenong Ranges of Victoria by Fred and Charlene Hosemans. Panax ginseng was included in l994.
Since November 1992, more than 700 new trials have been commenced in Australia in areas as diverse as Stanthorpe in Southern Queensland, through the highland areas of New South Wales, in most areas of Victoria and Tasmania and also in parts of southern South Australia and the lower south-western corner of Western Australia. Through the encouragement of the Hosemans and from Les Baxter of the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Tasmania, more than 70% of these trials are being conducted in bush settings. So far, the bush sites are proving to be more easily assimilated than those in paddocks.
Research To Date
Gembrook Organic Ginseng Pty Ltd and the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation
Most of the trials done by the Hosemans has been practical 'get your hands dirty' efforts. Most of the first four years was spent with trial-and-error experiments as little written material on cultivation was available. In 1994, the Hosemans attended the International Ginseng Conference in Vancouver (lGC'94), where Charlene Hosemans presented a paper on the history of Australian-grown ginseng. For four weeks after the conference, the Hosemans studied ginseng cultivation in various sites throughout Canada and the USA as well as some new trials established in Holland. Ginseng marketing in Hong Kong was also included. This Study Tour was jointly funded by HRDC and Gembrook Organic Ginseng.
The conclusion from these studies was that Australia should endeavour to establish a ginseng industry based on the slower-growing forest floor cultivation methods which generally produce a highly-sought-after and thus, well-priced product. Niche markets should be targeted.
Australian Ginseng Growers Association Inc and Gembrook Organic Ginseng Pty Ltd
In August 1995, Fred and Charlene Hosemans were invited to attend a ginseng conference in Harbin, China, hosted by the School of Traditional Medicine, Heilongjiang Province and Pegasus Pharmaceuticals. Charlene was also invited to make an oral presentation to the Conference. Unlike IGC'94, participation at this conference was by invitation only. The week of the conference included a field trip into the ginseng cultivation area of the province, where ginseng is being reintroduced into a forest floor situation.
The attendance of the Hosemans at this conference produced valuable world-wide contacts and strengthened the links for exchange of important information on cultivation, medical use and the market. The Hosemans' participation was funded jointly by the Association and their own company.
The conclusion reached from these studies was again that Australian growers of ginseng should concentrate on quality before quantity in their efforts to cultivate ginseng.
Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Tasmania and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation
Les Baxter and staff from the DPIFT commenced a Ginseng Trial Project at several locations in 1992, with funding from the RIRDC. These have been far more technical and well- documented than those of the Hosemans. However, conclusions are very similar. Cultivation of ginseng in virgin bush soils is more likely to be successful than those in open fields comprising previously cultivated or grazed land. Growers need to strive for top quality to be able to compete in the world market.
Pests and Disease
The most serious problem in the paddock trials has been reticulate slugs. Other problems have come from Corby-moth grubs and cockchafers. Generally, the depleted soils in previously cultivated paddocks have difficulty supporting the intensive growth pattern of ginseng. During the first few years, when the plants are quite small, any pest infestation can quickly destroy whole plantings in a matter of days. While steps can be taken to overcome these problems, the costs involved with setting-up, especially the costs of expensive shade structures, can be quite daunting.
In the 'bush trials', problems have mainly related to native fauna which can be fenced out. Even though most Australian forests do not supply the required 80-90% shade density, additional shade structures are generally not as costly as those needed in open areas. With the very real differences in market prices between field-cultivated and woods-grown roots, the extra expense would soon be recouped once harvesting begins.
Problems with Imported Seed Supplies
The biggest problem in establishing successful ginseng plants in Australia has been the need to propagate plants from imported seed. These seed supplies are out-of-season with Australian conditions by six months. Ginseng seed has a requirement for 18 months' delay from harvest to germination. The seeds arriving in Australia in the spring are twelve months old when they arrive.
The Hosemans' first seven years of trials show that planting the imported seeds as soon as possible after they arrive and always by early December, gives an approximate germination of 80-90%, twelve months later. Laboratory trials by Les Baxter, and more recently by Fred Hosemans, with unstratified (straight from the harvest) imported seeds are proving that earlier germination is possible. The important factor is that seeds need to germinate early enough in the growing season to give at least four months of healthy growth so that the root structure has formed sufficiently to support future growth after the annual die-back.
A Slow Road to Success
Possibly the most common reason for failure by potential growers is a lack of patience. It is well recorded in North America that far more people try to grow ginseng than succeed.
The 'Catch 22' problem encountered here is as follows: Everyone is looking for a 'quick fix' for their bank balance. The grower wants a quick return. The buyer wants bigger, better, and more ginseng as fast as possible. Potential ginseng growers need to be reminded that out of the many ways that ginseng can be grown, there are two ways that never work. Never quick and never easy.
What a grower can be sure of, is that those who have a 'bush block' trial in Australian areas that experience cold winters, mild summers, slightly acidic soils and high shade density, are proving that ginseng is an ideal sustainable alternative crop.
With the movement towards organic growing, ginseng is in an ideal position to take full advantage of the clean conditions on the bush floor.
With the market for ginseng well-established and prices for top quality, chemical-free ginseng rapidly increasing, Australia is in a unique position to take advantage of the current under-supply situation. However, to ensure our market position, Australia needs to consider relevant research on the aspects of ginseng growing that apply to the organic, and wild-simulated market sector.
Future R & D for Australia
Enquiries into research undertaken in the US and Canada in ginseng, reveal a lack of projects focused on a particular key area. The research in these countries appears to concentrate mainly on finding stronger and cheaper chemicals to prevent the problems caused by intensive cultivation, which would not be relevant to organic production. There is some research on the medicinal qualities of ginseng, but not a lot on the differences in the ginsenosides between cultivated and wild ginseng. There are also opportunities to undertake research on growing ginseng amongst trees in an Agroforestry situation.
The Australian Ginseng Growers Association Inc. (AGGA)
Since the formation of the AGGA in September 1994, the Councillors have been working hard to formulate and establish a solid basis for collective marketing. A validation of crop process is in its early stages and while organic certification is the ultimate aim, all growing
methods of members can be assessed by this process. In this way, growers should obtain the best market prices for their crops. A Growers' Manual is also on the Agenda, along with the establishment of regional grower support groups.
Challenging the Market Place in the 21st Century
Possible financial rewards for a successful organic ginseng grower in Australia are considerable. The import replacement and export potential are well know in the industry. AGGA plans to be at the forefront for established and new markets with the manufacture of high quality ginseng product. A new industry for Australia, with definite targets, is off to a solid start. Top quality, Australian-grown ginseng will challenge the world market place early in the 21st Century.
Any claims made by authors in the Australian New Crops Newsletter are presented by the Editors in good faith. Readers would be wise to critically examine the circumstances associated with any claims to determine the applicability of such claims to their specific set of circumstances. This material can be reproduced, with the provision that the source and the author (or editors, if applicable) are acknowledged and the use is for information or educational purposes. Contact with the original author is probably wise since the material may require updating or amendment if used in other publications. Material sourced from the Australian New Crops Newsletter cannot be used out of context or for commercial purposes not related to its original purpose in the newsletter
Contact: Dr Rob Fletcher, School of Land and Food, The University of Queensland Gatton College, 4345; Telephone: 07 5460 1311 or 07 5460 1301; Facsimile: 07 5460 1112; International facsimile: 61 7 5460 1112; Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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originally created by:GK; latest update 6 June 1999 by: RF