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Horseradish grinds out its place in market

Favorable climate in Basin keeps specialty crop in field with competing products
By DD BIXBY Herald and News 8/7/08

   TULELAKE — Tulelake grows the best horseradish in the world, says Harry Carlson, but the director of the Intermountain Research and Extension Center admits he’s a little biased to the local crop.
   But that wasn’t always the case.
   “I was not a fan of horseradish before I moved here,” he said. Now the plant, mostly used as condiments and sauce, is a consistent part of his diet.
   There are about 490 acres of horseradish grown in the Tulelake area, according to David Krizo, a Tulelake farmer who raises about 218 acres of organic horseradish.
   Though the acreage has gone down in recent years and is dwarfed by crops like hay and potatoes — which take up tens of thousands of acres — Carlson said that doesn’t indicate a lagging crop.
   “A few hundred acres of horseradish is a lot of horseradish. You don’t need a lot of it,” he said. “We’re probably a large portion of the nation’s horseradish production.”
   Though he didn’t have exact numbers, he guessed that the Lower Klamath Basin area raises about one-third of the nation’s horseradish crop.
   Horseradish also is exported and sold internationally, he said.
   Long stands
   Horseradish is a perennial and a member of the same family as other plants with strong flavors, like mustard and wasabi.
   In some parts of the U.S. the plant, harvested for its roots, is grown as an annual. In the Klamath Basin, however, horseradish is a perennial and established stands can grow for decades.
   Carlson said the two varieties in the Basin, which were tested and released from Intermountain Research and Extension Center in the 1950s, grow well and can continue production for at least 25 years.
   Some fields have lasted twice as long.
   Krizo said production decreases in the area are due to horseradish stands that burned out after 50 years of production.
   “Horseradish seems very happy with the climate here,” Krizo stated, adding that the plant is resistant to freeze and needs irrigation only twice in the summer.
   Some disease problems have plagued the area and fields have been lost, Krizo stated.
   Another challenge in local horseradish production is the abbreviated growing season compared to rival areas.
Grinding market
Horseradish is a crop that goes from field to jar, Carlson and Krizo said.
Sauce is the most popular product for U.S. grinders, though Carlson said there is an emerging trend for fresh root that can be shaved onto foods.
Krizo said that the horseradish (price) is steady, increasing by small increments every few years to help keep up with rising costs of production.
   In the current climate though, the prices of everything from land to fertilizer are skyrocketing, leaving horseradish lagging slowly behind.
“If the prices of other crops stay high, horseradish will suffer,” Krizo said, adding that beginning horseradish fields is a big investment that doesn’t yield much in the first few years.
   “With the price of other crops now, it is not worth it to plant a new field in horseradish when much more money can be made in alfalfa or grain, and made in the first year,” he said.
(Rafael Hernandez) shows a horseradish root harvested from his Tulelake-area farm
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