Echinacea angustifolia in South East Queensland
Echo Valley Herbs
Echinacea angustifolia is a herb-aceous perennial which is used as a medicinal herb worldwide for its immuno-stimulant properties. In the last five years, E. angustifolia has become extremely popular as an ingredient in natural cold and flu remedies.
E. angustifolia belongs to the Asteraceae (=Compositae) family which is well known for its weeds, with some particularly toxic ones. The plant is indigenous to North America and much of the material traded has come from wild-crafting (harvesting from the wild).
This plant has a particularly pronounced tap root and the active ingredients sought for use in herbal medicine are found in greatest concentration in the root.
Dried roots of E. angustifolia are highly sought after by the Australian medicinal herb manufacturing industry, prices have ranged from $50 -100/kg of dried root material. Annual Australian consumption of dried E. angustifolia root is approximately 15,000kg.
At present, only a small portion of this quantity is produced in Australia, the majority of material being imported from the United States, Canada and Germany.
A report by Mr Peter Horn, privately commissioned by The Ipswich Regional Development Authority for Herb Growers SE Queensland in 1995, nominated E. angustifolia in the top five medicinal herbs recommended for growing in the area. This assessment was on the basis of marketability and production suitability in south east Queensland. In terms of market value itself, E. angustifolia was ranked first.
The medicinal herb, Echinacea purpurea, is extensively cultivated in Australia and is considered by some as a poor substitute for E. angustifolia.
In the eyes of many herbalists, homeopaths and naturopaths prescribing natural medicines, E. angustifolia has a higher concentration of active ingredients and would be preferable if it were available.
However, E. angustifolia is more difficult to establish and to grow than E. purpurea, hence the popularity of E. purpurea amongst growers of medi-cinal herbs. Commercial cultivation of E. angustifolia has been hampered by poor germination and poor establishment of seedlings. This has been due in part, to dormancy of some sources of E. angustifolia seed and slow growth rates in seedlings. Well documented technical information relevant to cultivation of this plant in Australia is very limited.
The author completed his honours thesis in 1996 on the development of a protocol for propagation of E. angustifolia and is continuing to develop field cultivation methods for this crop for his PhD.
Narrow leaved coneflower
As part of these studies, a trial planting of three selections of E. angustifolia has been made in 1997 at Echo Valley, Toowoomba. The site was chosen for its suitable climate and light friable soil type which will facilitate harvest.
A phenological study of the species will be conducted, along with the determination of nutritional and cultural requirements for production of high yield and quality of E. angustifolia root material. The effect of fertiliser rate and type, weed control treatments, shelter belts, pest and disease control methods on yield and quality of harvested E. angustifolia root will be determined.
As with any emerging industry, an export focus must be maintained for the long term success of the Australian E. angustifolia industry. Growers need to share information so that 'the wheel is not reinvented' time and time again. Growers must also have a 'quality rather than quantity' outlook on medicinal herb production.
Marketability of Echinacea
The echinacea species are herbaceous perennials of the Asteraceae family native to North America and Canada. There are nine documented species, three of which are of commercial significance worldwide.
Echinacea purpurea is relatively easy to grow and is the main species grown in Australia. It has been grown commercially in Australia since 1984.
Echinacea angustifolia is more difficult to produce and is grown in relatively small quantities in Australia. Most E. angustifolia used here is imported from the US and is bush harvested and of poor quality, often adulterated with other material.
Echinacea pallida is commercially significant in Europe, especially Germany. There is growing interest in E. pallida in Australia, although E. purpurea and E. angustifolia make up the bulk of the market.
Echinacea is used as an immuno-stimulant in cough syrup, cough lozenges, fizzy tablets in combination with vitamin C, as tablets, capsules and as tinctures extracted using alcohol/water mixtures or glycerol. The main plant part harvested from E. angustifolia is the root. Seed is also harvested.
Product - Can I sell it? What is the product?
The main product for E. angustifolia producers is dried whole root. As E. angustifolia is a new crop, seed is also in high demand. There is difficulty in producing planting material for E. angustifolia crops, there is a market for seedlings produced for transplanting into grower's fields.
If capital is available, value adding of the dried whole root is possible. The simplest processing is to chop and sieve the root. Chopped pieces are used for solvent extraction in a 1:1 alcohol/water mixture to produce tinctures. Fines are bulked with other materials and made into tablets, capsules, lozenges and dissolvable tablets. Fresh echinacea material can be cold pressed to produce extracts which are used in cough mixtures.
As with other herbal medicines, the Australian market does not overly recognise quality, merely quantity, although this may change in the future as consumers become more aware of the active ingredients in echinacea products.
Where and to whom will it be sold?
The main buyers of E. angustifolia dried root are medicinal herb manufacturers. One such manufacturer used approximately 7000kg in 1997, of which 100kg was sourced in Australia.
Seed is purchased by growers and would-be growers, demand for seed is high and will probably remain so, due to the difficulty of germination and establishment of E. angustifolia seedlings. Seed sales for E. angustifolia for 1997 were approximately 10 - 15kg.
It has become apparent that some growers may wish to purchase six month old seedlings to reduce their risk and cropping time to realise a return faster on this slow growing crop.
How big is the market?
The Australian market for dried E. angustifolia root is not large, but it is growing at approximately 25% per annum. Approximately 15 - 20 tonnes of E. angustifolia is used in Australia annually compared to approximately 80 tonnes of E. purpurea. E. pallida usage is less than one tonne per annum. As stated above, E. angustifolia seed sales for 1997 were approximately 10 - 15kg. The market for seedlings is not known at this time.
The world market for E. angustifolia is not known exactly as production areas are small and growers tend to be secretive. Also, individual herbs are not quoted separately in statistical reports of world trade.
However, it is known that the world market is supplied mainly by bush harvested material from the US and Canada, which will have deleterious effects on biodiversity and has caused some less abundant echinacea species such as E. tennesseensis to become almost extinct in the US. This problem will increase pressure for greater cultivation of E. angustifolia worldwide.
Until 1991, Germany imported approximately 20 tonnes of E. angustifolia and E. pallida from the US annually. This echinacea was bush harvested. An inability to supply consistently, led German and other European farmers to produce echinacea. In the past few years Germany has supplied Australian manufacturers with raw product.
Echinacea is the top medicinal herb used in the English speaking world and fourth most popular in Germany. The English speaking countries, led by the US and Canada are the largest export markets for Australian-grown E. angustifolia.
How much money do I get?
In 1996, prices for E. angustifolia root ranged from $42 - $100/kg, lower prices were paid for low quality, conventionally produced root, high prices paid for high quality, organically grown root.
In 1997, a major manufacturer paid $55/kg for root produced organically and in 1998 this price was still being offered. Organically grown, agrochemical and heavy metal residue free root with 5 - 8mg/g isobutylamides (active constituents) will command a high price well into the future.
Seed price has not varied for the previous 3 years, at $1500/kg (1kg = approximately 50,000 seeds). It is envisaged that higher yielding varieties being developed by Plantalab Laboratories Pty Ltd, Hodgsonvale, Queensland in conjunction with Echo Valley Herbs and the University of Queensland Gatton College will be priced at $2000 - $3000/kg, these will become available in the year 2000.
How continuous is the demand?
The Australian market for E. angustifolia is not large, but it is growing at approximately 25% per annum and currently the majority of material used is imported. Buyers of imported material are keen to source Australian-grown herb but it is simply not available at the present time.
The same cannot be said for the E. purpurea market which experienced saturation in the last two years and a consequential drop in prices for E. purpurea material, $4 - $5/kg fresh whole plant, $30 - $35/kg dried roots and $10 - $15/kg dried whole plant. E. pallida prices are approximately $40 -50/kg dried material but continuity of demand at present is uncertain.
How do I get it to market?
In what form/product?
The primary product, dried E. angustifolia root is sold as either whole root or cut and sifted root. Drying is conducted on-farm using simple racks, airflow, a and heat source and takes several weeks. Direct sunlight is not recommended due to volatilisation and breakdown of active ingredients.
Slightly more complex processing involves cutting and sieving root material. More interesting and more capital ($50,000) and technology intensive processing involves cold pressing of green herb or other extraction processes (solvent or steam). Finely milled material can be processed into tablets, capsules or lozenges, but this is extremely capital and technology intensive and beyond the scope of most growers ($100,000 - $250,000).
What processing, testing and packaging is required?
When selling dried herb to medicinal herb manufacturers, a representative sample must be provided, preceding the main batch. This is tested for agrochemical and heavy metal residues, microbial contamination and active ingredient concentration. If satisfactory, the batch is packaged into clearly labelled poly jute bags with a plastic liner to control moisture level. Liquid extracts are shipped in either plastic food grade containers or dark glass bottles. Similar procedures would be required for export shipments.
Roots are relatively light but bulky. Roots are transported to local buyers by our own van, courier or Australia Post. Transporting the root ourselves has added a personal touch to our marketing strategy, allowing us to get to know our buyers and their staff better by putting a face to the name. We also combine delivering product with an occasional tour of their processing facilities to get an idea of how our product is processed.
For export, it may be wise to investigate air freight costs compared to sea freight containers for low consignment weights as air freight is charged on a volume as well as a weight basis. The time factor in sea freight may be a disadvantage. A freight forwarder would be able to expedite air freight and final packaging for a fee.
Continuity of supply?
The current market for E. angustifolia in Australia could be supplied by an area under intensive cultivation of 10 - 15ha. This means the market could be as easily oversupplied with E. angustifolia as it is with E. purpurea. However, there is an opportunity for a small number of farmers to organise themselves into a growers group and target overseas markets, with the ability to provide continuity of supply.
Australian E. angustifolia growers targeting export markets in Europe and North America have a number of production advantages:
Impediments - who is going to stand in my way?
Although there is a lot of interest in E. angustifolia growing, manufacturers and other buyers are importing practically all of their needs from overseas. Overseas suppliers are the main competitors at present. The production of E. angustifolia is very difficult as the plant is very slow growing and subsequently, vulnerable to weed competition.
Weed control in organic production systems requires a high labour input and the cost of producing E. angustifolia is often much greater than is first anticipated ($8,000 - $10,000 per hectare per annum). The crop must be dug from the ground and root are up to 600mm long, thin and brittle. It must be collected, transported, washed, dried and sorted, packaged and again, transported to the buyer. The seed is difficult to clean and requires specialised sorting machinery which is an added expense. Most aspects of E. angustifolia production still require mechanisation, a costly and time consuming exercise.
Nevertheless, there are a number of E. angustifolia growers in Australia, only a handful have actually grown and sold commercial quantities of E. angustifolia, at least one grower in 1997 produced, harvested and sold a commercial quantity and decided that the costs of production are greater than the return on this crop and will not be "dabbling" again with this crop.
All successful growers of E. angustifolia have one thing in common, they have another source of income!
Australian growers who get to the stage of producing a commercial quantity of E. angustifolia should not consider others who have reached the same point as competitors, but as business associates, working together to supply the medicinal herb industry requirements. Otherwise, the manufacturers will play individual growers off against each other in terms of price, quantity and quality (in that order) and they will dictate prices to growers on their terms rather than the global market prices.
The formation of growers groups will allow development of critical mass and facilitate continuity of supply without growers incurring greater risk. E. angustifolia should not be grown as the only crop on a farm, but in conjunction with other crops to decrease risk. At present the overseas competitors are mainly bush harvesters and commercial growers in the US and Canada and commercial growers in Europe, who at present supply 99% of the Australian market.
E. purpurea could be seen as a competitor to E. angustifolia, but not while E. angustifolia is still perceived as the superior herbal medicine by naturopaths and herbalists. E. purpurea has become popular due to the ease of it's production in Australia, not due to it's high active ingredient level.
How can I improve my chances?
Sources of information?
There is no E. angustifolia industry group in Australia and as stated above, the E. angustifolia industry is fragmented, although most growers, if approached gently, are friendly and will offer some advice.
There is no real E. angustifolia champion, although there is for E. purpurea production, Emeritus Professor of Physics Clif Ellyett of Ourimbah, NSW. Clif has grown E. angustifolia and can offer advice in the form of a number of publications he sells that are useful to E. angustifolia growers. Two major sources of information for E. angustifolia growers in south east Queensland are Nicholas Walker of Echo Valley Herbs and Alan Davidson of Cabarlah, Qld.
A number of research and development projects have been funded by RIRDC, at least one in Tasmania and one in Queensland. Other potential funding sources for research include HRDC, IRDC, ARC, and NHMRC.
The QDPI Rural Partnership Unit has produced a publication "Echinacea: A Commercial Overview" which is available from the QDPI bookshop. Departments of primary industries in other states have information on organic production techniques and other ancillary information which may be helpful for E. angustifolia production.
There are a number of federal government schemes available to aid in developing export markets for small and medium sized businesses, but nothing for very small growers. Its is possible that a growers group could organise for some form of government assistance if it was persistent enough.
Promotion of dried root material sold to manufacturers is not necessary to sell herb at present. Promotion will be required for other, more highly processed products, and will dependant on the target market. Australian consumers of echinacea products should be educated about the different species of echinacea and their characteristics as medicines, as the level of active ingredients in echinacea products will become a major issue in the near future.
Evaluation and Decision Making
Walker, N. (1996) The development of a protocol for germination and establishment of Echinacea angustifolia CD. Fourth Year study project, BAppSc(RT), University of Queensland Gatton College, 170pp.
Walker, N. and Fletcher, R.J. (1996) Development of a protocol for the propagation of Echinacea angustifolia D.C. Proceedings, Fourth Annual Research Conference, The University of Queensland Gatton College, October, 1996, 56.
Walker, N. and Fletcher, R.J. Development of Production and Harvesting System Protocols for Echinacea angustifolia DC RIRDC 1997/2000
Walker, N.J. and Fletcher, R.J. (1998) The trials of new crops R&D: research. In Fletcher, R.J. and Kregor, G.M. eds. The Australian New Crops Newsletter 9: 16.
Contact: Dr Rob Fletcher, School of Agriculture and Horticulture, The University of Queensland Gatton, 4343; Telephone: 07 5460 1311 or 07 5460 1301; Facsimile: 07 5460 1112; International facsimile: 61 7 5460 1112; Email:email@example.com
[New Crops Home Page] [New Crops Program] [Australian New Crops Newsletter] [New Crops Publications] [Order Form] [People] [Crop Profiles] [Other Resources]
Latest update 30 October 2000 by:RF