Echinacea (Echinacea spp)

How well established is this crop?

This crop is an emerging industry. It has been grown commercially for over 5 years. Commercial returns, current growers and some level of regional based research may be available to help those new to this industry.

Background

Echinacea is one of the most widely known of the medicinal herbs. Originally from the prairies of North America, this crop can now be found growing in a range of countries around the world.

Herbalists claim that this plant will help with things such as the immune system (making the user more tolerant of colds), as an anti-inflamatory and an aid in wound healing. American Indians also used Echinacea as a way of treating snake and insect bites.

Climate

Echinacea grows in a wide range of climates and soil types all over the world. To get good yields however it needs a good soil type and adequate water will ensure quality harvests.

Winter Chilling and Frosts

Echinacea will grow all over Otago and seems to tolerate frosts.

Rainfall and Irrigation

Echinacea does best if the roots are kept moist with a combination of rainfall and irrigation. Overhead watering is the best method for this crop as it is grown on a broad acre scale.

Wind

Because echinacea is grown on a broad acre basis there is no benefit from wind protection.

Soil

The key physical requirement of the soil for echinacea growing is a free draining root zone with a very friable soil. You harvest the roots as well as the tops, so a clay soil type may lead to breakages and a reduced yield.

Fertility

To get a good crop from echinacea, soil fertility needs to be high. Applications of a general NPK type fertiliser, based on soil test is recommended before planting, with a follow up application of nitrogen based fertiliser when the plants are actively growing.

Weed Control

Starting with a clean seedbed is the key to success with this crop. Echinacea germination is slow meaning weeds can easily smother the crop. Using transplant seedlings is one way to get around this problem even though it does add to the production cost.

Varieties

Although there are nine species of echinacea, only two have been grown on a commercial basis. These are the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) with a fibrous root and the narrow leafed purple coneflower (Echinacea augustifolia) with a tap root.

Pests and Diseases

Very few insects and diseases affect this crop.

Layout

Using transplanted plugs seems to be the best way to get an echinacea crop established. However direct seeding is possible if good pre-sowing herbicides and stale seed beds are used. An ideal spacing seems to be around 30cm between plants giving a final density of around 10 plants m2.

General Management

After crop establishment little is needed apart from water and weed control.

Harvest

After planting in the spring, the crop is left to grow for the summer period. Although there are no firm rules for this, in general the following autumn the crop is cut off at ground level and these tops dried for sale. The plant then over-winters as a root before coming away in the spring. In the second autumn the tops are cut again and dried for processing before the roots are lifted. Friable soils mean this is a relatively easy job. Dirt is washed from the roots and they are dried for sale using low temperature driers.

Equipment

After preparing the ground and planting most work on a echinacea block will be done mechanically. This means requirements for a tractor, harvest machinery, bins etc.

Returns

It is very difficult to estimate returns for New Zealand grown echinacea due to the fact that it is a worldwide traded commodity. Finding niche markets will be the key to success.

Contacts

Crop and Food Research Ltd Broadsheet # 33: www.crop.cri.nz