Sponsored by Oregon Business

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

Epitaph for a Boondoggle

April 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

The CRC is a cautionary tale about how we plan for, finance and invest in transportation infrastructure.


Read more...

Beam Me Up

April 2015
Thursday, March 19, 2015
BY DAN COOK | Photos by Jason E. Kaplan

An alliance of developers, academics and timber industry executives wants to position Oregon as a front runner in the glamorous new world of wooden skyscrapers.


Read more...

10 Oregon companies positioning themselves for growth

The Latest
Friday, March 13, 2015
vcthumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Ten startups have secured venture capital, angel or seed funding in 2015.


Read more...

Grassroots movement pursues carbon bills

News
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
eventthumbBY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

A partnership of a grassroots environmental organization and a youth group is striving to build community and business support for carbon price legislation.


Read more...

The Road to Reinvention

April 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Damian Smith bets on changing himself — and Portland — through consulting.


Read more...

MBA Perspective

February 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

Robin Anderson, dean of the Pamplin School of Business, University of Portland: "You need people who are comfortable leading in ambiguity."


Read more...

Carbon Power

February 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

Researchers in a multitude of disciplines are searching for ways to soak up excess carbon dioxide, the compound that contributes to global warming.


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