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Mint gains foothold in Basin

Published March 3, 2004

Tulelake Growers Association forms mint committee


The recent forming of the Tulelake Growers Association mint research committee suggests this crop is here to stay.

Mint - mostly peppermint - in the Klamath Basin is currently grown on 2,000 acres. That could ultimately grow to as many as 20,000 acres, said Deb Crisp, the association's executive director.

The mint committee, formed in January, is seeking to identify research needs, sources of funding to support the research and, perhaps most important, to represent the Basin as a distinct growing area.

Peppermint varies in subtle ways, depending on where it is grown. So even if the mint grown in the Basin is not the best, it is unique. But the quality and characteristics of Basin mint must be consistent, Crisp said.

Most Basin mint is distilled into an oil, while some is used for tea.

However, some industry sources say United States mint growers are overproducing the crop. If true, that puts the burden on Basin growers to produce a consistently high-quality crop, and to control pests prevalent in the Klamath Basin.

"We have really high yields here," Crisp said. "The crop likes the climate and the soil, and the oil is of an extremely high quality."

This week, the committee will consider whether to invest in a small distillery, said Lee McKoen, the committee's chairman.

A small still could be used to produce mint oil samples three or four times during the growing season, McKoen said.

Leaves of the perennial crop will start to push through the soil as soon as warmer weather shows up. Mint is harvested during late summer or early fall.

This kind of research could help growers maximize mint oil quality and quantity - to grow the best oil possible and have culture practices consistent with that.

"Once we know what is critical to this growing area that can be implemented in the commercial production," said Harry Carlson, superintendent of the University of California Intermountain Research and Extension Center. "It would take three or four seasons to get a full picture."





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