Four experts from Indiana join us for a conversation on growing peppermint and spearmint for oil.
Doug Matthys is a mint farmer in South Bend, Indiana at Shady Lane Farms, a fourth-generation family farm growing mint on about 1000 acres.
Dr. Elizabeth Long, Assistant Professor in the Department of Entymology at Purdue University, studies plant-insect interactions to inform IPM strategies in specialty crops, with a focus on the Asiatic garden beetle grub in mint fields.
Petrus Langenhoven is a Horticulture and Hydroponic Crop Specialist at Purdue University working on the management of verticillium wilt in mint.
Dr. Stephen Meyers, Assistant Professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University, conducts research on weed management strategies in mint.
Midwest Mint Growers
JASON FISCHBACH 0:00
This is a podcast. About new crops. You’re gonna love it. Join us on The Cutting Edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin.
Doug Matthys 0:10
So I will say if you ever get back into the COVID world and you got to wear these masks all the time, just take a drop of spearmint and peppermint oil and that’ll freshen your mask up, that will make your day go a lot better.
Jordan Schuler 0:38
Welcome to another episode of The Cutting Edge Podcast, in search of new crops for Wisconsin. My name is Jordan Schuler, and I’m the Regional Crop Educator with UW Madison, Division of Extension, and the newest member of the Emerging Crops team here at UW. Today’s episode will be all about mint production. This is actually our first episode on mint production. And we have four people joining us here today with a lot of expertise in mint production and management. Joining us we have Dr. Patrick Langenhoven, who is a Horticulture and Hydroponics Crop Specialist at Purdue University with an expertise in vegetable and peppermint production as well as new crop development. We also have with us Dr. Steven Meyers, who is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University, where he conducts research in weed biology, wheat crop interactions and integrated weed management strategies, and provides Indiana specialty crop producers with research based weed management recommendations. We also have Dr. Elizabeth Long with us who is a Professor of Entomology at Purdue and has done research on various mint pests. And we will also be hearing from Doug Matthys, who is an experienced mint producer at Shady Lane Farms in Indiana. And he will be sharing his expertise and knowledge about mint production and market outlooks. So I’m gonna let them introduce themselves and give a little background on their research and experience with mint. Petrus, would you like to go first?
Petrus Langenhoven 2:04
Yes, thank you, Jordan, thank you for the invitation to be part of this podcast. Yeah, I started to work on mint in Indiana in 2015. It was pretty interesting. I had to help a colleague of ours here, Steven Weller, he’s been a longtime mint specialist, weed scientist, here in our department. And he wanted to take a sabbatical. So that was my intro to mint production. And I have to say it’s, it’s been a good time. Although the industry is not so healthy at this point, I would think if you look at the ecosystem, but I think Doug will explain a lot of that, as we go along. What I am currently focusing on is verticillium wilt management. I’m not plant pathologist, but from an economic point of view, verticillium wilt is a big deal to mint growers and growers constantly have to look for new ground. Because this fungal disease can stay in the ground for a very long time. If you take many years ago and look at how mint was produced, you could at least get four to five years out of a specific planting that you made. And now in many instances that’s been cut down to three years, and maybe four if you’re lucky. So obviously that has economic implications to the grower. So this fungal disease that’s caused by Verticillium dahliae, and it’s really a soil borne pathogen or fungal pathogen is very detrimental and introduces the growth and the potential of the crop over time as it settles in the crop. So most growers will either apply a chemical fumigants or they will look for new ground if the ground is exhausted and infected with the fungal disease. So while the Mint Industry Research Council is looking at potential breeding options, to get a resistant variety out there, which is really a very long shot, and maybe Doug can also talk a little bit more about that. It’s really a long shot because mint doesn’t produce pollen or seeds. So it’s really hard to do anything. And if you really want to get quickly to a new variety, you probably have to intervene with some generic processes that is not always favorable from the consumer point of view. So we choose to look at biological approaches, and we wanted to focus on biological fumigation. And anaerobic soil disinfestation is one of those techniques that’s been used very successful in strawberry production and some other crops to control Verticillium dahliae. So really with this process, you look at a labile carbon soil amendment that you will apply, you will saturate the soil with water, you will tarp it with plastic. And you will leave it like that for about four weeks and usually do that process during the hottest time of the summer. So there are some benefits of doing that. And really, in our instance, we were focusing on using local sources to cut down on costs and those kinds of things. And, yeah, it has an impact on the good microbes in the ground. And the negative impact on the ones that we do want to get rid of. We’ve been monitoring several things associated with this and Dr. Lori Hoagland is really taking the lead on all the soil microbial activity work that is related to this research. We are coming to the end of our project actually, and it’s funded by SARE, the North Central SARE USDA. So it was a great opportunity for us to do some work for the growers here in Indiana, but also in the Midwest that is affected verticillium wilt.
Jordan Schuler 6:26
Awesome. Thanks for that background Petrus. Steven, would you like to go next?
Stephen Meyers 6:30
Yeah, thanks, Jordan. So I’m Stephen Meyers. I am a weed scientist and have been working really in peppermint since I’ve been back at Purdue in 2019. And basically most of our research program right now is focused on chemical based weed management. So trying to establish crop tolerance to various herbicides, by rate and application method, both in the field and in the greenhouse with the end goal of having more chemical herbicides registered for our growers to use to mitigate the effects of weeds, basically. That’s it. That’s my introduction.
Jordan Schuler 7:13
Awesome. Thanks, Stephen. Elizabeth, do you want to go next?
Elizabeth Long 7:17
Sure. So I’m Elizabeth long. I’m a Specialty Crop Entomologist at Purdue. And I also started working on mint in 2019. And really, it’s such an amazing crop, it’s new to me, I think it’s just amazing. I can’t get enough, even though maybe everyone else has been working in it. Particularly the growers are like, oh, it’s old news to us now. But it’s such a neat, interesting crop, just putting that in there. But all of my, my knowledge and really experience working in the crop so far has been revolved around this white grub, called the Asiatic garden beetle. This is an invasive species, it’s been around and a lot of other crops, it’s very polyphagous. So it’s kind of like the Japanese beetle in that they’ll eat lots of different things. But there are some key differences that I won’t go into, I guess, because I’m already starting to nerd out. But the grubs the big challenge in the mint is they’re, they’re there now, like, so here in Indiana, about 2014 or 15, the growers started seeing damage. And they dig into the soil and find these white grubs. And so all of our effort has been focused on first of all, confirming this is the species which we know it is because there are other white grubs species that are in the soil feeding on the roots of mint and also trying to look at the relationship between the density of these grubs and then plant performance so we can get an idea of an economic threshold for growers. So if they come out there and they count so many grubs per square foot or something like that, then they know I need to do something. And in terms of what that something is, that’s kind of a whole nother thing. Because you’re getting these grubs in the soil with insecticides is pretty challenging. But we have seen some promise with a couple of diamides, well I should say one diamide that we’ve tested in the lab and we’re also evaluating some insect parasitic nematodes, which are naturally occurring enemies of these white grubs. So that’s kind of what’s happening. What can we do? And I think the key thing right now is finding a threshold for growers and then hopefully continuing to get funding to answer the question of what kind of approach is going to work as part of an integrated strategy short term, maybe relying on insecticides and long term relying on communities of these insect parasitic nematodes?
Jordan Schuler 9:34
Awesome. That is very interesting. They’ve a lot of soil based knowledge here today. Just great. Doug, would you like to go next?
Doug Matthys 9:44
Sure. Yeah. Thank you for allowing me to join here. Yeah, I guess I’d be fourth generation farmer here in South Bend, Indiana. When My great grandpa originally purchased the original farm back in the 1930s. At that point, there was a mint being grown in the area. And so we’ve we’ve sort of always had it as a specialty crop rotation, kind of keeping us a little bit diversified, versus just corn and beans. So yeah, fourth generation, kind of taken over all sorts of management, production side, financial side of everything. We’re, we’ve been up to about 2200 acres. And right now we’re just a little under 1000. We’ll probably get into why that is. But yeah, we’re we’re multigenerational family up here that’s just kind of been growing that and that’s what we’ve always done and, and proud to do it.
Jordan Schuler 10:48
Awesome, well we appreciate you being here, Doug. It’s always nice to have the growers perspective, especially in a room full of researchers. Would any of you like to provide any sort of background or overview on how Mint is typically produced in the Midwest?
Doug Matthys 11:09
I can be happy to take that question. So here in the Midwest, it, you know, the long history of it, it originated out of New York, and it just sort of worked its way west as the country grown. And we’re we’re at, at one point in time, there was one of the largest marsh areas in the world, and the Kankakee River. And when they dredged that and drained it, it left this black, beautiful, highly organic soil. That just meant, particularly peppermint really thrived on. And so I believe that’s kind of the origins of how mint got started in the Midwest. And in Wisconsin area, that would be the other kind of growing state, they also have these lower areas where rivers have come through and marsh areas. And then you couple it with the fact that, you know, when the production started happening, a company like Wrigley Company, like Procter Gamble, Colgate, those were probably three of the biggest ones that, you know, bought mint oil, obviously, based in Chicago, Cincinnati, and then there in New Jersey, respectfully, you know, it was easy then to grow the mint in that area, and get it shipped to where it needed to get into the final products. So that’s kind of how a bit production sort of started here, I believe in the Midwest, just as it as it migrated, you know, just these, these farmers found good, good soil to do it on. And there was a market for the product, and it just it just sort of flourished from there.
Stephen Meyers 12:44
So Jordan, that’s something we’ve kind of talked around, but I don’t know that we’ve said explicitly the end product here is is mint oil. So yeah, it’s not, you know, they’re not marketing leaves or anything, it’s, you know, it goes through a distillation process. And there they have barrels of, of oil. And that’s, that’s the end product that the grower is selling.
Jordan Schuler 13:05
Okay, thank you for that. So, I read that mint is a water lover in Indiana. Is it irrigated? Do you get enough rain in that area?
Doug Matthys 13:16
Yeah, so typically, where it was grown in these muck soils, that that was sort of river bottom as it is. And so it was areas that typically were wet, and unless you had a really droughty year, it stayed wet. And so that’s why I believe that peppermint plant probably enjoyed growing in these regions was just there was highly organic soil, and it stayed moist. Obviously, with the advent of any investment in irrigation, then guys started growing it on sandier soils. And, you know, being able to, you know, produce that crop via irrigation, I would say that probably 90 90% of the crop that we have grown mint-wise over the course of Shady Lane Farms growing, it has either fallen in those two categories. Very rarely do we put it on the ground that is not irrigated, that would be susceptible to drought, just just simply because the cost of producing it is, you know, you’d be running a pretty big risk of it. So when when you hear that mint is water loving, it’s, like I said, it’s because it’s growing in ground that used to be marsh so, you know, it typically just kind of stays wet.
Jordan Schuler 14:32
Awesome. Thanks. So I’ve heard most of you mentioned peppermint. Is there a big difference in production between peppermint and spearmint? Or would anybody like to touch on kind of the different varieties that there are between the two?
Doug Matthys 14:47
I could take that one again, I guess since I was asked about the production side of stuff. Yeah, on the peppermint side of it, most of it is a variety called Black Mitcham. That’s, that’s traditionally what’s been grown here. In the US, and then on the on the spearmint side, there’s two varieties, there’s what’s called the native spearmint. And then there’s also a Scotch spearmint, the Scotch spearmint seems to be a little bit more valuable market wise than what the native is. But, and then the researchers they they can touch on a little bit too. But a lot of this has, it’s traditionally non GMO. It’s just plants come from a mother bed greenhouse, we, we transplant it into what we consider to be sterile, healthy soil, plants grow out, they they shoot out roots, we dig those roots up out of the ground, and we transplant an acre, you know, we would take 100,000 plants, plant them into an acre, an acre turns to 10, 10 turns to 100, and so on and so forth. So that’s kind of how the three varieties get going. And then how you sort of propagate it out to get it to a commercial commercial side of things.
Jordan Schuler 16:00
Okay. Um, for the researchers, is there a preference between the two that you’re looking at? Are you looking at both peppermint and spearmint, just one or the other.
Stephen Meyers 16:13
So I can take a stab at that. This is Stephen, the weed scientist. So most of the work that we do is done in coordination with other mint growing states and researchers at other universities in those mint growing states. So the work that we do is usually funded through the Mint Industry Research Council, or the MIRC as a multi state collaboration. So the idea being basically we’re looking at treatments across all the all the different kinds of mints, and all the different stages of the crop. So row mint versus a more established midfield. So most of my work has been in peppermint, because we know the Pacific Northwest folks usually have the spearmint side taken care of as far as the treatments go.
Petrus Langenhoven 17:04
Yeah, my work also focus more on peppermint, since Black Mitcham is highly susceptible to verticillium wilt, so that that’s the variety that we’re really focused on.
Elizabeth Long 17:17
I would say we’re working mainly in peppermint fields, but we’re working with growers who do have some spearmint fields. So we’re trying to make sure, I mean, I suspect damaged by this, we’re seeing that damage is similar, because they’re grown very similar and have similar structures. But I would say just because of the acreage, we’re doing a little bit more in peppermint, but certainly working in spearmint, too.
Doug Matthys 17:40
And I guess I would just like to add that your weed management and your pest management, you know that that goes across the board for all varieties of mint. But I think there’s probably a lot of interest. And there has been a lot of interest in the peppermint side of it, as Petrus has mentioned about this verticillium wilt will which just can absolutely devastate a crop. And so that’s kind of always been one of the ending goals that the MRIC that Dr. Meyers suggested or talked about, was trying to find a way to combat this verticillium wilt. So that peppermint production, you know, can stay at that, you know, good good production levels. So, and then at the end of it, you know, people that come out to the mint still, and anybody that sort of knows mint or like mint things, that peppermint smell, that peppermint flavor is your your traditional, I guess when what do you think of mint, and when you think of what it smells like, you’re probably going to identify more with peppermint. So you know that that’s probably just a preference with things, too.
Jordan Schuler 18:52
Yeah. So Doug, you brought up pest management. I think that’s a great topic for us to touch on today. We’re talking about verticillium wilt. Petrus, would you want to dive a little bit deeper into your work with verticillium?
Petrus Langenhoven 19:04
Well, yes. So we applied for a grant from the North Central SARE group, and that was 2018. So we started the research in 2019. And then, yeah, we were all excited. And then COVID happened. And we were put back a year with with the work that we were going to do. But yeah, it’s always a challenge working out in fields, multiple fields. We really wanted to look at different things that are cost effective for the grower to have on his farm the problem that we see with the approach that we have with the AFD technique, anaerobic soil disinfestation technique is that there is a tarp involved. So that component of the application of the technique is not really sustainable. And you’re going to have to have a whole bunch of tarp to cover an area, which is not really feasible. If you think about 1000 acres or more per month, it is a fumigation, plastic. So it’s used for large scale communication. And you can put it down with a tractor if you have the right implements we didn’t. So we use the shovels to dig a ditch around the plots. Before we tarp, the treatment, we would soak it so saturate it with water, put the top on and then just put soil on the sides to seal it up. But basically, it’s a clear tarp so you get the light to penetrate, and all that energy to be locked in, under that plastic. So in the end, I think the technology would really work well in a nursery setup like that explained, you know, you start with clean material, and you build it out slowly. So maybe on a smaller scale, it might be viable. One of the treatments that we included was mustard a variety called Caliente 199, it produces a lot of glucosinolates. And with that, there is known research out there already that there is a biofumigation effect from this crop, if you you shred it, you basically flail mowing, and you should have it in the ground within about 20 minutes to make use of all that gas that’s released from the plant material. And then you get the fumigation effect. So most of that in commercial setup is done without tarping. So in our research, we wanted to see what an additional tarping effect will be. Other treatments that we looked at was chicken litter, we have a lot of chicken litter in the state, something like dried distillers grain. And we also wanted to include soybean meal. And then just as an additional control, we wanted to do just a normal solarization without any addition of any labile carbon source, just using the heat to see what the effect on that is. So yeah, it comes down to a lot of material that needs to be applied. So the calculations that we made, it was almost 9.6 to 10 tonnes per acre of a labile carbon source that needed to be added. So in the end, obviously, all these numbers can have impact on the bottom line if you produce money. And our study is not really long enough to look at the complete effect on the cycle of production. We only had one year, so we really planted mint, we grew it for one year, we harvested it. Ideally, we would have continued with it for a second, third and fourth year to see what really happens with the mint in the field. But we just don’t have the time, the luxury of time within this project to do that. And if we could have done that, we really could have looked at the entire economic cycle and what the real bottom line and benefit for the grower would be. But there were some interesting results that we found on the the yield side. So for instance, some of our treatments, if you added mustard with the top, we had, for instance a very low yield. So the plants were shorter, low high yield. So if you compare that with the chicken litter treatment, obviously there’s a lot more nutrients locked up in the chicken litter, we had a lot of biomass being produced, the mint was tall, we had a lot of stem, but little leaf. So now obviously all the oils are locked up in the leaves of the plant. So we had high high yields with chicken litter, but we have low or the lowest oil yield. And the mustard treatments gave us the highest oil, although they have the lowest biomass produced from those plants. So that was pretty interesting, but not completely uncommon. We’ve seen that in the past that high high yield doesn’t really reflect in the oil in most of the time. If you can retain the leaf on the stem, that’s when you really get the oil in the in the in the tank in the end. In terms of microbial activity. I don’t really want to talk a lot about that since that’s not really my field of expertise, but it seemed like there was a bit of a positive impact on microbial activity in the ground when it came to the soybean meal that we applied. They still working through the data and we haven’t gotten a final answer as to what really worked well, in that sense. Part of the study is going to look a little bit at the cost of all these treatments. And we’ve surveyed some growers to find out what they are currently doing. So we want to see what this intervention maybe could change on the farm. And if it is actually a positive thing in terms of the bottom line, just from a one year perspective. But yeah, that that would be interesting, I think, and that can maybe talk to this too. From an agronomic perspective, mint are really great crop to include in your rotation. When you grow beans and corn, it gives you time to manage other things, like the weeds Stephen does. And fertility wise mint also requires quite a bit of fertility.
Jordan Schuler 26:10
I’m curious as to do you think there’s any correlation between the age of the stand and the potential damage that verticillium wilt has?
Petrus Langenhoven 26:21
I mean, sure, I don’t have data for that. But I think Doug can attest to that. So the longer your mint stand is in the field, the more you see verticillium wilt patches appear in the field, and it will get bigger over time. So the mint production, in terms of biomass really goes down over a number of years. And it just really depends on how infected the soil is, in terms of how long you can produce that. So that maybe you want to comment on that.
Doug Matthys 26:58
Yeah, I’d be happy to. So one of the things that’s happening here in the Midwest is guys that have been growing it and, and with university research out there with it. You know, ultimately, right now the best tool, you have to control verticillium wilt is to move peppermint production to virgin ground. And unfortunately, when you say take a 60 year timeframe, there’s only so much ground available as you’re getting to this point. And I think what’s happening for a lot of growers is, and it’s happening in our farm, we we can have a mint field that was peppermint 30 years ago, we’ll let it grow maybe a four years, four years stand, comes out, we could go 10 years when we don’t put peppermint back in, come back in. And maybe now that peppermint goes three years because that verticillium wilt, if it was heavily infected in the soil, it just cuts that that cycle down again. And so growers really are sort of at this crossroads where they’ve sort of minted out a lot of the ground that was very productive. And with the commodity markets being higher in corn and soybeans, you know, you just you just don’t want to take the risk of putting out mint with the high cost of production in the ground, that’s maybe on his fourth year, fourth rotation of it, knowing that there’s a verticillium wilt problem there. And so your other option, and Petrus has mentioned it, is to go through and fumigate the soil. That’s an option we’ve done that that’s also a high cost looking at 350-400 dollars an acre. Of course, you can, you know, spread that out over the course of three years. But even then, by that if you don’t get a good seal, even by that third year, you can just see, you can just see that verticillium wilt is just taking that plant down and it just attacks the plant and shuts down its ability to produce oil and it just looks sick and unhealthy. And you know, you could lose easily 1000 to $1,500 an acre in profit if if you’re not aware of it and allow this stuff to come in. So yeah, it’s it’s it’s nasty, you know, and then there’s been a lot of research done on it. I mean, one of their colleagues out at Purdue Dr. Ralph Green is basically dedicated his entire life to try and figure out verticillium wilt. And it’s just it’s just a really a tough, tough case to solve.
Jordan Schuler 29:37
So I’m not super well versed on fumigation. Is fumigation for mint specific to verticillium wilt or is it also for other pests diseases?
Doug Matthys 29:52
I’ll kind of answer what we did and then maybe maybe some of the Purdue professors there can researchers can jump in. What we did and we went out to Idaho where they were growing potatoes and sugar beets and watch kind of what they did. Because they they put the stuff on about every acre in order to keep their production up up there. When we did it, what we found was it basically allowed us to clear the soil slate, if you will, and kind of put it back to sort of a clean slate in terms of weed management and verticillium wilt. And I guess I didn’t really see much on the insect side of stuff. But it gave us about a two, two and a half year window, if you will, where we just didn’t see a lot of weed pressure, a lot of this verticillium wilt, so you go in here, you knife it into the ground, you try to get the soil covered over it, you get it down there, and maybe a foot, you know, 15 inches, and then it just gasses itself up through the soil there that that top layer, and that’s sort of what just sort of fumigates and just sort of wipes out everything that’s sitting there. And we’ve done it, like I said, we’ve done it once or twice, we’ve kind of had good results. But just a little bit time consuming, because you got to you got to have like 120 day window to allow it to work. So you can’t be you know, really putting it out in the spring if you’re planning on planting. So it just becomes a management time issue, you know, trying to get it on there. And then of course, the cost so.
Petrus Langenhoven 32:06
I think to some of the points that Doug made there. That’s what really inspired us to do this work. So the cost of the chemical fumigant is pretty high. The efficacy is, is not that great, you do get some reprieve from applying it. But then again, you can also negatively affect soil microbial life, good microbes in the soil. So in effect, you can worsen the situation as time goes on if you fumigate it too much. And I think that’s why we really wanted to look at more biological approach to to the management while the mint industry research council is trying to sort out, you know, the genetic side of things, which might take a very long time.
Jordan Schuler 32:57
So we talked about disease management and fumigation. Are there really high input costs for weed and insect management on mint?
Stephen Meyers 33:09
I can tell you a little bit about the kind of the the novelty of mint is that it is one of these short term perennial crops. So that being said, we have to concern ourselves with a lot of different types of weeds. Now, if you’re growing, warm season vegetable crop, you’re mostly concerned with summer annuals, right. But in mint, we also have to concern ourselves with with winter annual weeds as well that germinate this time of year and are going to be present when the mint breaks dormancy next spring. So it’s just it’s, it’s just kind of being mindful of managing that system year round. And I imagine the same is true for insects, just being mindful that you’ve got to stay on top of your pest continuously for a matter of years, instead of just months and then walk away from it. So I think that’s kind of the novelty of of this production system.
Elizabeth Long 34:08
Well, I’m interested to hear what Doug says I I’ve only worked with a few growers directly. There are certainly some insects that are problematic in our region that aren’t other places. So like more the Pacific Northwest, even Wisconsin, so like one example I can think of is the mint root borer. I don’t know that I haven’t heard from anyone in Indiana, that it’s a big problem. But I know it’s more of a problem in Wisconsin. And I say that loosely. I don’t know how much damage but it’s something I hear on the radar that people that I’ve worked with many growers here haven’t mentioned. But I’m so focused on this one particular insect and in working in the mid system, so I can’t really speak to, to what others like maybe Doug can speak to that what you’ve seen during the season and I suspect knowing the phenology of some of these insects and you know when they’re going to show up and you can hopefully time your applications at the right time and knock them out.
Doug Matthys 35:03
Yeah, I guess, on our end, you know, one of the challenges and struggles is as as the industry seems to be sort of shrinking, there seems to be less and less growers, there are less and less growers than what there was 10 years ago, then obviously, there’s going to be less and less of a need and demand for new newer chemicals, newer pesticides to get registered for mint crop. And I know that that’s one of the things the MRIC has always done is work to get, you know, mint labeled for things. In terms of the, the weed and the pest management, you know, we’ve always felt, and I guess it’s been ingrained in me that the easiest way to manage these things is to grow a healthy crop. So by going through and making sure you’re, you’re you’re providing that plant with what it needs, when it needs it. And then, you know, making sure you get good foliar coverage and just allowing the plant to control weeds in places, you know that, that that tends to be the easiest route to it. And it’s no secret probably in the mint growers that as you as you cut corners on things, or you’re delayed on getting a particular chemical or pesticide out there, you know, your your mint becomes less healthy, the weeds then take over, pests takeover, and then you’re just kind of playing catch up. So I guess my dad has always prided himself on making sure that anybody that ever came to our farm, goes to any one of our fields and just sees an absolutely beautiful field of mint. The next part, I guess, I and it’s a perception and again, that Purdue researchers can kind of maybe talk to it, but it also seems like the weather and winter has a lot to do with these things. And unfortunately, that’s just stuff that nobody can really control. But you know, a harder, colder, freeze or winter seems to bring on less things, you know, hot, humid, you know, summers, just moisture out there just breed stuff. So, you know, you got to take in all that consideration and our fellow growers out there in the far west, one of the things that they have the advantage of is that they know it’s going to be sunny and 85, and low humidity all day long, and they’re not having to worry about water and rain, they get it from the canals, you know, we we get this 20% chance of rain on an 85% percent humidity day. And of course, lo and behold, the drops an inch and a half of rain and 20 minutes right on your field. And so you know, you just you have all these different management issues. So we’ve been pretty fortunate that we just make sure we understand that we’re investing a lot into this crop, we take pride in what we do. And that you just have to get out there at the right time and make it a priority to keep on top of this stuff. And if you’re able to do that, you usually have pretty good results in your mint yields.
Stephen Meyers 38:16
I’ll just second what Doug said, what we’ve seen in in our some of our weed control studies is that if you have a healthy mint crop, they can, it can quickly outgrow a lot of the winter annual weeds that are problematic or that are present in the field and kind of over canopy and crowd them out. And so that’s, that’s definitely really key.
Doug Matthys 38:38
And I guess I’d like to add to that too, just one simple thing we do. We just take an air hose to our machines before they go from a weedy field to a non weedy field and blow off to make sure we’re not carrying weed seed over. And you know, it’s a five minute simple fix. But as long as you are letting all the operators know that that’s what needs to happen before we go from field to field. You know that that cuts down on a lot of issues right there. So, you know, we talked about a lot of research and expensive chemicals and pesticides, but sometimes it’s just that $5 simple five minute answer that goes a long way to so you know, and that just that’s just being on top of those things and making sure everybody knows that. You have to do that and why you have to do that. And what what the advantages of it is.
Jordan Schuler 39:27
Are you finding any herbicide resistant weeds in your fields?
Stephen Meyers 39:33
Yeah, so the weedscience.org is a website that tracks known documented herbicide resistance incidents worldwide. And if you if you search mint, you’ll find documentation of group five and six herbicide resistance. So those would be the photosystem two inhibitors where there have been weeds in many fields that have been resistant to those groups of herbicides. So, unfortunately, one of those is this terbacil, which is Sinbar, which, which is a very effective herbicide that’s used in mint. So one of the things that we want growers to be mindful of, is to just be aware if herbicides aren’t controlling weeds as effectively as they used to, that there may be resistance, and that may be something we want to get ahead of. The other thing to keep in mind is it meant is rotated with other row crops. So if you have herbicide resistant weeds, especially the pig weeds, in your corn and beans, those aren’t going anywhere, they’re, they’re going to still be resistant to the same types of herbicides when they’re in your peppermint, or your spearmint. So.
Doug Matthys 40:45
And I guess, I guess just add on that, again, one of the things that will happen then at harvest is if you have a field that’s infested with, say, pig weed, or dogbane, milkweed, that opens the door, then for your oil to sort of have weedy notes. You know, these particular plants have oil residue on the backside. So as you’re using steam distillation, to try to get out mineral oil, you’re also distilling out other things that can contaminate your oil. And then that that just sort of opens your door up, then for the people who buy it to say, well, you know, we can’t really accept this barrel because it doesn’t meet, you know, doesn’t need a certain scent, or you know, oil quality. And then the adage there from the grower side of it is right now there’s less demand for the oil, there’s plenty of oil on the market. And so they can kind of be picky and choosey about what barrels they want. When they needed oil. When oil was in short supply, they would take anything they got no matter what was. So you know, once again, you’re if you if you want to continue to be relevant in the mid production side of it, you got to make sure your developer you’re delivering good quality oil. And definitely keeping these weeds out of out of your fields. Just just helps you in the long run.
Stephen Meyers 42:04
Yeah, yeah, I might be talking over you, Doug. But anytime a herbicide or pesticide in general is registered and a crop we want to document it has to document that there’s one crop safety, efficacy against the pest in question. So it does actually control weeds in that system. And then two, or sorry, the third factor is that residue in the crop. And so that’s established by EPA, they have allowances for various pesticides in the raw agricultural commodity, but also things like meat. So Doug can talk about this, but from what I understand, is it the buyers will look for residue of pesticides that may have been applied off label.
Doug Matthys 42:49
Yeah, Stephen, that’s, that’s absolutely correct. In fact, we are working on sending samples out to some of these buyers, and then they’ve got to go to a third party to basically verify for no pesticide traces, and that, that has been a shift here probably in the last five years. And my understanding of it is is that if these buyers of the oil wants to tap into, say the European market, they need to be able to meet pretty high stringent standards. What’s interesting, from our standpoint, as a grower, the company would not accept the barrel of oil if it was tainted or of low quality in any way. But yet the idea of traceability sustainability all the way back to where that commodity was produced. That’s kind of been a hot topic or just sort of a push for end users to be able to say consumers, you know, that, that this this is an all natural product, or we can show you where this product came from or what have you. And of course, what what what’s interesting in all of that is, you know, the buyers is sort of the stop point for us. Like I said that barrel of oil would never get into the system if you know if we if there was something wrong with it. So but most growers, in fact all growers they follow the pesticide labels and there’s a pre harvest interval and, and then it steam distillation. So you’re running 200 degree temperature up through a thing and you’re you’re basically killing off a lot of what’s ever in that, that that wagon at that point in time. And so unless somehow it gets contaminated from when you distill it to put it in the barrel, you know, most of the time, it’s pretty good quality oil.
Stephen Meyers 44:38
Yeah, and what Doug touched on as far as export that that goes across a lot of different crops. You know, it’s there’s not a really good harmonized, standard for how much pesticide residue can be in a commodity. So EPA may say one thing domestically, when you try to send it to the European Union, you know, they may exceed their threshold, right. So that’s specific to mint, but I know a lot of our other horticulture crop growers, they deal with that as well. Right? And it’s just one of those things to be aware of.
Jordan Schuler 45:11
So we kind of started talking about the distillation process, do you distill it yourself, Doug? Or do you send it out to get distilled by somebody else?
Doug Matthys 45:20
No, we, we, we run every acre through our own our own men still we have on farm on location. That’s how most guys do it. I know, out in the far west, and it’s starting to come where if you only have a couple 100 acres, and then you know, maybe you you allow somebody else to custom harvest for you, custom harvested for you. But no, everything happens on our on our facility. And again, you know, you’re looking at water quality is, is probably, you know, something that could contaminate your steam distillation. But we’re, we’re pretty fortunate here to have to have good, good quality water. That’s not really an issue for us. But yeah, just I guess a little bit of background the plant grows, comes out of dormancy in the spring. Around here, we usually shoot for around July 4, it’s about a 60 day time period, that plant starts to grow, it creates a flower up on top, it begins to but at that point, that indicates that the plant is kind of coming to the end of its lifecycle, it’s starting to set oil on, we’ll go through, we’ll mow it with sickle bar, that you kind of think, hay, into a windrow, we allow the sun, wind to dry it out for 36 hours, a day, that just tries to take some of the moisture out of the plants, that we then bring it back in large tubs that we run steam lines in the bottom, steam comes up through the wagon, it vaporizes the oil, the vapor then goes into a condensing tank where that vapors cooled back down into a liquid oil and water separate oil floats to the top, we run it into a collection tank and then we put it into a barrel. And then that’s what gets shipped off to to the ultimate to the end users then so.
Jordan Schuler 47:04
Well, thank you for that background, it’s helpful to kind of know how that process works. We’re kind of rounding out our time here. So just a couple of last minute questions. Where do you see the mint research going in the future?
Petrus Langenhoven 47:24
Maybe I can answer some of that. I honestly don’t know, the like Doug said the industry is in decline. And there is not a lot of funding available for four months. For instance, when I applied for this grant, the North Central Region didn’t even know we grew mint here in the Midwest, so it’s almost like this crop that’s hiding in between us, you know, and yeah. So I don’t know, you know, how we can put more emphasis on the importance of this crop? I think it is important. It’s it’s very interesting. It is it was at some point, the largest specialty crop in Indiana. I don’t know if it is so at 5000 acres. We are the largest in the Midwest. So yeah, I think the importance of the crop is there. It’s just a matter of getting the resources to to do the work.
Doug Matthys 48:29
And just I guess from a growers standpoint, yeah, there are less and less of us growing, that that’s probably a trend that’s true. Among American farmers, I mean, my dad is 68 years old. I’m 42 If there’s 150 growers right now in the US, I probably am one of the youngest. And you know, I don’t mind doing what I do, I really enjoy the mint side of it. I know they’re probably people my generation that don’t want to be out in the middle of July dealing with steam when it’s 95 degrees and hot. And you know, I always joke that we’re just we run a mint still in the summer because we’re too dumb to own a lake house. So but the other the other part of the other equation to this is Steven pointed out, we are producing essential oil that that does go basically in the flavoring of products. You’re talking toothpaste, chewing gum, confectionaries that’s probably the largest side of it. There’s different trends. I mean, obviously you know back in the day you could go into a gas station and buy a pack of Doublemint gum for 25 cents and you did that because you had to go inside and pay for gas. Now you know everything is self checkout. It’s it’s right at the pump. You know you go brush your teeth, the Mint Industry Research Council, these end users have found out that the average American brushes their teeth 1.2 times a day. So it’s not even it’s not even two times a day. And everybody that comes in says, Oh, well, I’ll think of you when I brush my teeth. And I’m like, Yeah, you will tonight and tomorrow, but a week from now, you’re gonna brush your teeth, because you know, it’s a health benefit, not because you want to support the mint farmer. And I think another part to this is, is that, you know, maybe 20-30 years ago, there was sort of a personal connection between the people who procured oil for the end users coming out to the farms meeting the farmers, they knew each other, they they understood what was going on. My general thought is, you know, that job now is sort of a stepping stone to something higher in a multinational multibillion dollar corporation, and who really, you know, wants to stick around trying to buy mint oil for 10 years. It’s just not, you know, you just go to someplace else. And then the big elephant in the room is, there’s a lot of foreign oil that’s getting blended off. Growers have kind of talked about, if you really wanted to make an issue out of it, that you you probably could put forth some sort of complaint against with the US Department of Commerce, that what being certified in the certificate authenticity of being 100% US oil, in fact, is not that and it but you know, it all meets a price point that goes into something else. And until the consumer starts to say, hey, I want this to be 100% natural, US based oil. It’s it’s just kind of how it’s going to be. And I just don’t see the consumer doing that, because mint oil flavoring and what you’re doing is such a small, minute, you know, amount. And yeah, it’s just kind of really flies under the radar. Like I said, if it was an apple, or if it was a glass of orange juice, or if it was milk, you know, people are consuming that whole product. But when you’re talking about mint oil, or you just need just a drop of it in order to do whatever you needed to do. So, you know, just to give reference to your listeners, a 400 pound barrel of oil can flavor they say 1.2 million sticks of gum. And we we produced probably close to 200 barrels of oil this year. So we’re one grower, we’re small. So yeah, it’s a unique, unique place. And because of all that, you know, that’s growers, less less money being directed to them, or I see end users not maybe necessarily knowing that they’re getting the oil, and they’re fulfilling their needs, by it being blended just sort of creates this need, where it’s like, well, do we really need to keep hammering down on how to take care of weeds and beetles in the mint. And it’s just sort of, we’re at a, we’re at an inflection point in the industry, the old timers will tell you what we’ve been here before we pulled out of it. Hey, you know, I don’t know, this just kind of seems a little different this time than in the past. But you know, I guess time will tell and ultimately at our, our office, and when we talk about it, at the end of the day, we’re all mint farmers, but you better be doing it better than the next guy and take pride in that. So you know that that’s just sort of the unfortunately, the game you kind of have to play if you want to stay relevant in an industry these days.
Jordan Schuler 53:30
Kind of on that note, my last question for everybody. You want to chime in great, you don’t have anything you don’t have to chime in. Um, could there be any untapped uses for mint?
Doug Matthys 53:47
Well, I know I know, the MRIC, I believe they’re funding a project there was like West Virginia Wesleyan where a gentleman is looking at, you know, mint oil, just in terms of in in classrooms, just sort of, you know, awakening the senses that you get better results if you’re more aware. I know we’ve been approached, you know, at the end of that peppermint is has anti bacterial properties to it and oxidant properties to it. It is a pretty healthy product to have out there. But again, you just have to use such a small minut amount of it in order to get the benefits of it. And then there’s this whole marketing point to it to you know, a lot of the essential oil market is you know, people think of doTERRA Young Living is that coming straight out of our mint still into a bottle? Probably not, you know, but the price point of that is higher than what we sell it for a pound for and they sell it for half ounce, and they labeled as therapeutic grade oil. What does that mean? Nothing. It’s a marketing scheme. It’s a marketing tool, you know, and the American consumer just they, they they care but then guess said it’s just It’s been oil, you know, like, it’s just like you said, there’s not there’s not a lot other uses for other than what it is. And yeah, just a quick anecdote my wife and I thought, well, we could do better than doTERRA we’ll sit at our kitchen table, and we’ll start filling up these half ounce bottles, and we’ll sell them on farmers markets. And you did this and you’re like, oh, all we have to sell is peppermnt and spearmint oil. Oh, you know, like, what kind of merchant are we and we were able to do enough to cover costs, but you know, yeah, just a little bit goes such a long way. So and the American myth farmer, if you give them the opportunity to produce the crop, they’re going to do it. And I think that’s been part of the problem too, is research probably has gotten us to where we can grow more pounds and less acres and then less demand and and then there we are. So I will say if you ever get back into the COVID world and you got to wear these masks all the time, just take a drop of spearmint and peppermint oil and that will freshen your mask up, that will make your day go a lot better. So
Jordan Schuler 55:58
Well, thank you all for being here. Really appreciate it talking to all of you and participating in this episode of the cutting edge podcast.
Steffen Mirsky 56:29
Just one final note here before we sign off, if you have any ideas for show topics or just general feedback on the episodes, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org that’s cutting email@example.com. Thanks again.
JASON FISCHBACH 56:52
Brought to you by the University of Wisconsin Madison division of extension
Transcribed by https://otter.ai