Home Back Issues December 2009 Fresh hope for the mint industry

Fresh hope for the mint industry

| Print |  Email
Archives - December 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
MintGrowers and distillers of Oregon’s troubled peppermint industry hope that a not-so-new invention will help increase their crop’s international competitiveness. Researchers are looking at how the humble microwave could be adapted to revolutionize the state’s mint oil production process and greatly reduce the industry’s operating costs.

Currently, mint oil is extracted through a high-cost steaming process involving large boilers that run on expensive fuel. Rocky Lundy, executive director of the Mint Industry Research Council, says the combination of cheap foreign products from China and India along with uncertain fuel prices has hurt the state’s competitiveness over the last 12 years.

Bryan Ostlund of the Oregon Mint Commission says Oregon produces 25% of the nation’s mint oil, roughly 2.5 million pounds, with an annual value of $50 million. Lundy says planted acreage of the crop in Oregon will increase 3% to 5% by 2010. Currently the state grows about 28,000 acres. But with a global appetite for the cheapest goods, experts say the state’s industry must find a way to cut production costs in order to survive.

Lundy says the current steam distillation system can account for 60% of the total production cost. “The idea of trying to find some more efficient form of distilling the oil has been around for years,” says Lundy.

That Holy Grail of mint oil distillation may be on the way, says Lundy. With help this summer from Oregon State University researcher David Hackleman, mint producers rented an industrial microwave unit, designed for textile production and drying dog food, and used it to distill the oil from batches of mint hay instead of using costly boilers. Lundy says the samples of the oil produced in the initial experiments easily met the quality standards expected of Oregon mint. However, further research will be conducted in North Carolina on the true energy efficiencies of the process.

John Wendel, general manager of Albany-based RCB International, which buys mint from growers and sells to customers like Colgate, says over the past 10 years there has been pressure from large retailers such as Wal-Mart for cheaper products. The result has benefited overseas producers who have gained a strong foothold in the industry with Mentha arvensis, a lower-cost peppermint alternative blended with other oils. The alternative blend has chipped away at traditional mint production and Oregon’s share of the market, says Wendel.

“Arvensis affected us negatively,” says mint grower Jim Cloud of Madras. “On the other hand, I can’t blame [the customers] really.”

But if the research on the microwave system proves positive, Lundy says within five years the new process could give Oregon its edge back. “Last year, I would’ve said [Oregon mint] had an uphill battle,” Lundy says. “Now that hill is not so steep.”
WILLIAM E. CRAWFORD
 

Comments   

 
jim long
0 #1 Fresh hope for mint industryjim long 2009-11-27 10:15:40
what fuels are used to heat the boilers?
Quote | Report to administrator
 
 
keith pauley
0 #2 bad lifecycle economicskeith pauley 2009-12-01 20:17:35
Steam efficiency=~99%
Electric production=30-4 0% efficient
Microwave generation=
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

The 2014 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon

News
Friday, February 28, 2014

100best14logo ThumbnailThe 21st annual 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon list was announced Thursday night at an awards dinner at the Oregon Convention Center.


Read more...

The more they change, the more they stay the same

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
100-best-collageBY BRANDON SAWYER

The 100 Best Companies get more creative with perks and more generous with benefits; employees seek empowering relations with management and coworkers.


Read more...

On fire

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

A self-proclaimed “chile head,” John Ford “grows, eats and does everything spicy.” 


Read more...

Fuel's gold

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY SOPHIA BENNETT

The coastal town of Coos Bay appears poised to land every economic development director’s dream: a single employer that will bring hundreds of family-wage jobs and millions in tax revenue. 


Read more...

How to help your staff solve their own problems

Contributed Blogs
Friday, March 21, 2014
03.21.14 thumb coxcoffeeTOM COX | OB BLOGGER

During a recent talk to HR Directors, I asked if they saw leaders trying to solve every problem, instead of delegating to and empowering staff. Every head nodded. Every single one.


Read more...

The future of money

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY JAKE THOMAS

An ancient institution moves slowly into the digital age. 


Read more...

What I'm reading: Brad Smith & Travis Boersma

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Brad Smith, founder of Hot Pepper Studios, and Travis Boersma, president of Dutch Bros. Coffee, share their recent reads.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS