By SEAN ELLIS
Idaho growers say favorable weather this year produced a high-quality mint crop that yielded more oil than normal.
The entire Pacific Northwest had a quality crop also, however, and now they're concerned about over-production affecting prices.
While 2010 and 2011 featured unusually cool and long springs, 2012 featured a normal spring, said Jon Fabricius, farm manager for Hamanishi Farms, which grows about 370 acres of peppermint and spearmint in southwest Idaho, where the bulk of the state's mint crop is grown.
"Mint growth was better this year than it's been the last couple of years because we had pretty favorable weather for it," he said. "Overall, we're pretty pleased with the mint crop."
Idaho's 2012 mint crop didn't have to suffer through the adverse weather that marked the 2010 and 2011 growing seasons, and hot summer weather caused the plants to grow better and produce more oil, Fabricius said.
"I think it probably had more to do with ... not being so far behind on the heat units this year," he said.
Yields in Idaho averaged close to 110 pounds of mint oil per acre, up from 100 pounds per acre the past few years, said Del Christiansen, the Idaho buyer for Labeemint Inc., a Washington company that purchases mint oil from Idaho growers.
"In Idaho, yield-wise, it was a very good year, probably the highest overall yields we've ever had," he said. "It's quite a bit higher than average."
Idaho produces about 17,000 acres of mint each year but that total was closer to 18,000 this year as higher mint prices heading into the season caused more farmers to turn to that crop.
But growers are concerned that a stellar national crop could lead to oversupply and a dip in prices.
Hamanishi Farms owner George McClelland said that according to national usage forecasts, the market has been over-produced this year.
"Mint prices have been good but right now we're facing an over-production problem so I expect some correction in the near future," he said.
Because of the relatively small size of the mint industry, it doesn't take much to over-produce, Fabricius said.
"If you over-produce by 5 percent, it's really tough for anybody to make money because the market will tend to crash on you," he said. "But if ... your production is close to usage, then everybody can make money."
The market situation hasn't affected prices yet but open market buying has been slow recently, which is an indication the market is over-supplied, Christiansen said.
"It's a delicate market that you don't want to get too over-supplied," he said. "Right now it looks like we have plenty of oil but not so much that we don't know what to do with it."