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Mint farmer looks abroad

Basin grower finds new niche overseas with undistilled mint leaves

by Ty Beaver,  H&N July 20, 2006

H&N photos by Todd E. Swenson Seus Farms owner Scott Seus grows mint in Tulelake which he sells to a company in Germany that makes mint tea.

  The air was heavy with the aroma of peppermint as combines swept up and down fields of cut mint. When its the right shade of green, Tulelake farmer Scott Seus knows he has a good crop. 

  I tell them Im sending $100 bills, he said. 

  Seus and his men worked last week getting the first cutting done and to its buyer. But unlike most mint growers in the Basin who distill their crop into oil, Seus isnt sending his mint to a distillery. 

  Instead, this first cutting of mint will go to a German company and made into mint tea. The rigors and demands of conforming to the regulations necessary of an international market and an uncommon crop can be trying, but are worth it in the end, Seus said. 

  Mint became a more common sight in the Basin after it was first grown in the mid-1990s. Today, Rich Roseberg with the Klamath Experiment Station said there are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 acres of cultivated mint in the Basin with a dozen growers and three oil distilleries. 

   Seus started growing mint for tea five years ago. Fuel costs made it less profitable to produce oil and he looked for another market. He has 350 to 400 acres of cultivated mint this year.

   Its been good for us. Were able to fit a niche market thats hard to get into, he said. 

   Unlike those who grow the crop for oil production, the standards for growing tea mint are stricter, Seus said. The crop is organically grown, using beneficial and biological pest control measures instead of pesticides, and no supplements. 

   The harvesting time frame for mint is short, five days maximum. Working 12-hour days with the swathers and combines isnt unheard of. Seus has an additional requirement of harvesting before the plants flower and diminish the color of the leaves. 

  Equipment must be modified to harvest the new crop, stripping the leaves from the stalk without crushing them, which can lead to frustration and mechanical setbacks. 

   We call it the crop of one thousand adjustments, he said. 

   Despite the difficulties and frustrations the crop can bring, Seus doesnt plan on cutting back his yields. His buyer keeps coming back every year and is happy with the product. For that, he said hell deal with the mechanical problems and long days.

Mint falls from a combine into a truck at Seus Farms.

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