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Quality of Idaho mint crop looks good

Sean Ellis
Idaho mint farmers are happy with the quality of this year's crop but yields have been variable and open market prices are a big question mark.

NAMPA, Idaho — Idaho’s mint harvest is wrapping up and farmers like what they’re seeing, even if yields have been variable.

“Overall, (the) crop looks pretty good,” said Nampa farmer Robert McKellip, president of the Idaho Mint Growers Association.

McKellip said total spearmint and peppermint acres in Idaho will be about 18,000 this year, which is slightly above normal. Peppermint harvest is mostly complete in Idaho, though some first-year fields could be harvested into the middle of September.

Most peppermint fields in Idaho are cut only once each year but second cuttings of spearmint could also push into mid-September.

Jon Fabricius, farm manager for Hamanishi Farms in Fruitland, said yields have been highly variable, and some mint fields that looked good ended up yielding less than expected while some fields that didn’t look as good yielded more than anticipated.

“We were a little bit surprised at how variable yields were,” he said.

McKellip said a lot of fields have been down 5-10 percent on yields, which could have a lot to do with the short water supply this year in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, where the bulk of the state’s mint crop is produced.

“Mint is a water-loving plant and some people didn’t have enough water to water it adequately to get those bumper yields,” he said.

Many irrigation districts in the area shut off water about a month earlier than normal and there was a big push to get mint harvested before ditches ran dry in early September, said Greenleaf farmer Dave Dixon.

A very hot summer also helped the crop progress rapidly, which contributed to harvest beginning a little earlier than normal, he added.

Idaho Mint Commission chairman and Caldwell farmer Tony Weitz said the unusually hot weather — 2013 was the hottest summer ever recorded in the Boise area according to the National Weather Service — didn’t appear to harm mint fields.

“I don’t think it hurt the mint. Mint usually does well in heat,” he said. The 2013 crop looks “about average or a little better than average. Everybody’s mint made it to harvest all right.”

While current contract prices — about $22 to $24 per pound of mint oil — are OK, Weitz said, the open market is a big unknown because there’s very little activity.

“The prospects of selling mint oil on the open market are not good right now,” he said. “It’s real quiet. Dealers won’t even talk about it.”

“We don’t really know what’s going on inventory-wise. The market activity’s been real quiet,” Dixon said.



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