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                             Klamath horseradish has global appeal
                             By Kathy Coatney, California Farm Bureau Federation Sept 7, 2005 edition

Horseradish has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years, and over the course of time it has been used not only as a condiment, but also for medicinal purposes.

Several growers are raising a combined total of about 900 acres of horseradish in Tulelake, in the Klamath Basin on the California-Oregon border. That acreage constitutes roughly 30 percent of total U.S. production, according to Scott Seus, a horseradish grower in Tulelake.

Harry Carlson, superintendent of the University of Californiaís Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake, said that horseradish came to the Klamath Basin in the 1950s, when the centerís first superintendent brought in horseradish cultivars.

The climate in Tulelake is very similar to that of the upper Midwest, where horseradish has historically been grown, Carlson said.

"I do think the quality of the root is affected by the growing conditions, and our environment is well suited for production of really pungent horseradish," Carlson said.

Seus agrees that the climate contributes to the high quality of the horseradish that Klamath Basin growers raise.

"All our crops get a chance to cool off at night," Seus said. He asserts that the taste of the horseradish grown in the basin differs distinctly from that of crops grown east of Nevada.

"I think that it really has a lot to do with the soils, the varieties, the weather conditions and how they grow their crops," Seus said.

"We certainly have higher heat in our horseradish. Thatís why Germany comes and buys some of our horseradish. And even the processors back in the Midwest buy some of our product from here in Tulelake to blend with some of the Midwest horseradish to improve the quality of their product," Seus said.

Horseradish is a contracted crop in which just a few Klamath Basin growers specialize, Carlson said.

"I think it would be easy to over-produce horseradish. The real trick in horseradish production is marketingmmaking sure you have a home for it," Carlson said.

David Krizo, who owns Krizo Farms in Tulelake and is a California Farm Bureau Federation member, regards horseradish production as a niche market.

"And the organic is a niche market within a niche market, so itís really small," said Krizo, who annually sells about 25,000 pounds of organic horseradish that he grows on 220 acres.

"Weíve actually built up the organic. Before we were out there, there was no organic horseradish. We sell quite a bit to distributors for health food stores mjust as we do the roots themselves," Krizo said.

When he began raising organic horseradish in the mid-1990s, he had to learn about it on his own because he could find no one locally who was knowledgeable about it.

"Iíve just done a lot of reading, and Iíve gone to conferences, and talked to people, and that sort of thing," Krizo said.

Virtually no research has been done on horseradish in California for 15 to 20 years, Seus said.

"Actually, we do a lot of work with the University of Illinois to try to figure out what our disease problems are. Theyíre probably the lead university and the lead specialist in horseradish in terms of helping us to cope with the problems that we have," Seus said.

Krizo said that weeds can diminish horseradish yield because they compete with it. Seus observed, however, that no herbicides are approved for application on horseradish in California.

"The manufacturer canít afford to go through the process of registration in California," Seus contends. "There are lots of chemicals that are labeled in 49 other states, but not in California."

Lack of herbicides has not been a deterrent for Krizo, who said he never used them, even before he began raising his crops organically.

"I never even wanted to because itís actually more effective just to do it by hand," Krizo said. "Itís really critical, as far as the timing, to get the weeds before they get very big and cover them up with cultivating or whatever. Iíll do some hand weeding, too, for the ones that do get up there," Krizo said.

David Latter, chairman of Morehouse Foods Inc., based in City of Industry, Calif., said the 106-year-old company has deliberately specialized in mustard and horseradish while resisting expansion into other product lines. Mustard accounts for about 90 percent of the companyís sales, while horseradish captures the remaining 10 percent.

"Weíve stayed within a very narrow range and become the specialist in those two items," Latter said, adding that horseradish is an important item for the company. Morehouse buys the horseradish it processes from Tulelake, citing proximity as a main factor.

"Theyíre in California, and weíre in California," Latter said. "Weíre probably a primary customer of theirs, and they know weíre dependent on them for all of our roots that weíre processing. Itís been a wonderful two-way street."

Horseradish is considered a "mature" category in terms of consumption, meaning that the market has been largely saturated, with little room for growth, Latter said. "Horseradish could well be a generational thing."

Seus agreed that horseradish consumption could be limited primarily to aging consumers, but is optimistic that the popularity of wasabi may create new opportunities for growth. Because traditional wasabi, made from the Asian herb Eutrema wasabi, is very expensive, substitutions made with mixtures of horseradish have been introduced. Probably 95 percent of the wasabi sold in the United States is derived from ground horseradish, he added.

Horseradish consumption has risen in the United States, Seus said, but demand hasnít been met by U.S. production. The deficit is being filled by producers from China.

"China is dumping it on our market," Seus said. "Theyíre producing it and putting it on the docks here in the state of California for less than what we can grow it," Seus said, adding that growers are concerned and feeling the pressure.

A small export market for horseradish exists, Latter said, but exporting horseradish is problematic. Domestic horseradish is heated and some preservatives are added, Latter said.

"It needs to be refrigerated, and you canít, for the most part, ship horseradish with any additives in it," Latter said.

Japan and Korea wonít allow additives, so Morehouse exports some horseradish without preservatives.

"Itís a very expensive, specialized way to ship," Latter said.

(Kathy Coatney is a reporter in Orland. She may be contacted at zooker@theskybeam.com.)




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