AHPA Congress: “Botanicals and Planet Earth, 2022”
The American Herbal Products Association’s (AHPA) 10th Botanical Congress “Botanicals and Planet Earth, 2022” was held August 16 & 17, 2022.
The first panel, “Climate Change is Real: Case Studies on How the Environment is Impacting Your Herb Supply” focused on impacts of changing weather patterns on specific ingredients and botanicals. This focus made the risks of climate change to the botanical industry more concrete and thus the necessity of the urgency of taking appropriate action –now.
The panel was moderated by Bill Chioffi, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at Nammex.
Speakers included the following botanical industry persons:
- Cindy Angerhofer, Executive Fellow in Botanical Research at Aveda
- Nate Brennan, Purchasing & Sales Manager, Pacific Botanicals
- Rachel Doty, Supplier Verification & Supply Chain Manager, Meridian Trading
- Jan von Enden, Head of Sustainability – Supply Chains, Martin Bauer
Below are some key points from the panel.
Changing weather patterns are directly impacting yields of specific crops. Nate Brennan, Purchasing and Sales Manager at Pacific Botanicals, described how earlier higher temperatures in southern Oregon (2021 had 25 or more days with temperatures over 95 degrees; in 2022 they have had multiple weeks of 100 degree weather) puts the plants under stress earlier in their growth cycle. That, combined with the extended drought in the Pacific Northwest, has adversely impacted valerian yields.
Yields from 2018 to 2020 declined from 2100 pounds per acre to 1300 pounds per acre of dried valerian root. This is where yields currently stand. He said that other farms in the Northwest are experiencing similar decreases in yields.
Rachel Doty, Supplier Verification Manager for Meridian Trading, explained that less rain during the growing season in Mexico for chamomile is leading to lower yields. Jan von Enden, Head of Sustainability from Martin Bauer, showed images of lemon verbena that had burned in fields in Paraguay because it was so hot. Farmers in that community had planted corn to ensure they would have a source of food, Jan said, since they would have no income from the lemon verbena.
In addition to problems from no rain when it is needed, Rachel explained that too much rain during other parts of the chamomile cycle also creates challenges. Mexican farmers harvest the chamomile during the dry season and are able to leave the harvested crop to dry for 2-3 weeks in the fields. Yet, rain during that season is extending the drying season to 4-5 weeks and leads to quality problems from getting wet during the drying process. Not only are there microbiological problems, the rains impact the flavor as well.
Mexican chamomile is known for its floral sweet flavor. With the rains, that flavor is becoming more earthy. The pollen is also darker and so that the cup of golden chamomile tea that customers are familiar with is now darker.
Nate mentioned a similar challenge, though the cause is different. One of the solutions for lower yields of valerian is to import it from overseas. Yet, valerian grown in the Pacific Northwest also has a particular flavor and constituent profile to which customers have become accustomed and on which they rely. It isn’t simply a matter of switching that valerian supply to another grown in different conditions with a different chemical and flavor profile.
Loss of Traditional Knowledge
Many of the farmers and producers cultivating botanicals for the international market are small holders with limited resources. The knowledge they have about how to cultivate and harvest these crops, how to deal with pests and other challenges, often comes from others in their communities who have grown those crops as well. And yet, the changing weather patterns means that knowledge becomes less accurate. It also means they don’t necessarily know how to respond to the new pests that are appearing as the weather changes. This increases the need for agricultural support and training.
The Needs of the Farmers
These changes are making it more challenging for farmers to continue doing what is already a challenging profession. In the image of burned lemon verbena, Jan pointed out how the heavy rains and intense heat is compacting the soil structure. It is now extremely hard and difficult to farm. New pests are also showing up that the farmers aren’t used to and for which they now need to find solutions.
All of the speakers emphasized the necessity of supporting the farmers who bear the greatest risks to help them navigate these changes. Rachel emphasized that botanical companies need to ask how to continue to incentivize farmers to grow these specialty crops as the problems and risks continue to increase. “We rely on them to produce these products so what do we need to do to let them keep on doing this work?” she said.
Nate mentioned that it is important to find new farmers to come online to grow some of these species that are facing declining yields. It is key that companies do what they can to understand the challenges farmers face and to make farming a more attractive profession.
Looking Beyond the Products
Jan outlined the ways Martin Bauer works to understand the needs of the farmers growing the crops that the company purchases and how it is important to understand their whole system, not just the issues relating to the crops that they buy. He said that farmers know what is happening, they know why it is happening, and quite often they are coming up with solutions to address those changes.
For example, how can a company support practices that improve the soil structure and health for all of their crops, not just those that a company supports. For example, drinking water is key to a thriving community. How can a company ensure that that community has access to drinking water?
Climate change impacts us all. If farmers can’t grow these crops or if there are no farmers to grow the crops, the entire industry is at risk. Addressing these challenges is precompetitive, Jan emphasized. They call for new ways of relating as companies and as an industry.
The Sustainable Herbs Program is hosting a series of pre-competitive conversations on different aspects of these challenges for SHP Underwriters and Members. To learn more, please contact SHP Director Ann Armbrecht, PhD..