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NMSU to hold Asian medicinal herb production, marketing workshop

ALBUQUERQUE - Specialty crop growers will have an opportunity to learn Asian medicinal herb production and marketing during a three-day workshop conducted by New Mexico State University.

New Mexico State University alternative crop researcher Charles Martin picks Chinese Wolfberry, also known as Lycium chinense or Gou Qi Zi, from the medicinal herb garden at NMSU's Sustainable Agriculture Research Center in Alcalde. Wolfberry is one of the many Asian medicinal herbs that will be discussed at the three-day workshop production and marketing training to be held Dec. 3-5 at the Bernalillo County Extension 4-H Auditorium, 1510 Manual NW in Albuquerque. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

The goal of the three-day training is to assist growers in identifying, managing and mitigating risks associated with Asian medicinal specialty crops grown for the acupuncture and Oriental medicine professions. The workshop, led by alternative crops researcher Charles Martin of the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde, will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, December 3-5, at the Bernalillo County 4-H Auditorium, 1510 Menaul NW in Albuquerque. The registration fee is $75, which includes lunch each day.

"This is an opportunity for specialty growers to acquire a practical understanding of what it takes to grow Asian medicinal herbs that are used for acupuncture and Oriental medicine," Martin said. "Asian medicinal herbs offer unique and possibly lucrative new markets for organic specialty crop growers, especially here in New Mexico where our varied and extreme climate and growing conditions enable the production of a diverse range of medicinal crop species."

As with any other new or unfamiliar specialty crop, Asian medicinal herbs come with their own risks and challenges.

"Proper species identification, knowledge of seed sources, successful propagation techniques, awareness of potential invasiveness, and familiarization with production, harvesting and processing methods are important things to know with any niche crop, especially with Asian medicinal herbs," Martin pointed out.

The development of a sound, long-range marketing and distribution plan to handle fluctuations in this emerging market will help prepare growers for the realities of boom-and-bust cycles associated with herbs.

"A proper understanding of herb quality criteria needed by acupuncture and Oriental medicine professionals is essential for success. Growers need to be mindful that they are not just cultivating herbs, they are growing medicines. Potency and sanitation are paramount considerations growers need to include," he said.

National experts Jean Giblette of High Falls Gardens in Philmont, N.Y., Peggy Schafer of the Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm in Petaluma, Calif., and Jackie Greenfield of Gaia Herbs in Brevard, N.C., are scheduled to share their extensive knowledge with growers on the details of each of the following areas: Asian herb market overview and outlook; species identification and selection; propagation; cultivation and crop management practices; identifying and managing potential invasiveness; harvesting methods; processing and quality control; marketing strategies; and understanding market contracts.

"Active participation and follow-through on the part of attending growers will be strongly encouraged. Growers will be expected to learn to match crop species with their growing conditions, select herbs based, not just on marketing potential, but also on their combined use in Chinese formulas, acquire hands-on processing skills and develop a marketing strategy for their selected herbs," Martin said.

While the training will be oriented toward experienced, certified organic specialty crop growers, anyone can attend. For more information or to pre-register, contact Martin at cmartin@nmsu.edu or at (505) 852-4241.