Acupuncture Continuing Education

Wisconsin Ginseng Disaster

Wisconsin’s ginseng crops were devastated in May due to heavy snow and freezing temperatures.  Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl have requested federal disaster relief for the area. Feingold has urged the Department of Agriculture to provide emergency credit and assistance to farmers so that they can salvage their crops before they are completely lost. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to declare Marathon County, Wisconsin a disaster area so that the necessary relief can help to save the crops. Disaster declaration will allow farmers to obtain crop insurance payments and emergency loans.

Wisconsin produces 95% of ginseng in the United States. Marathon County accounts for most of the ginseng produced in Wisconsin. Licensed acupuncturists use ginseng in herbal formulas to benefit their patients. Over the counter sales and exports to China account for a large percentage of ginseng sales. Wisconsin ginseng has a value of approximately $70,000 per acre. Wisconsin produces over 500,000 pounds annually with a value of over $15,000,000. Ginseng is a native plant to Wisconsin and Wisconsin ginseng has a high concentration of ginsenocides, powerful active medicinal ingredients in the plant.

It takes 18 months for the seed to become a plant and another three years of root growth for ginseng to be harvested. Ginseng is planted in raised beds and covered with straw to protect it from the winter cold. Shade structures are placed over the ginseng to protect it from the sun in the spring and summer. During the May snow storms, the shade structures collapsed exacerbating damage to the crops. In the 1990’s, growers replaced sturdy wood shade structures with the light-weight plastic shade covers which then failed in the snow storms. The plastic structures can only handle about 2 inches of snow. Growers erected the shades two weeks earlier than usual due to unexpected sunny weather. Unfortunately, the winter storm hit just after the shades were set in place.

There are approximately 200 ginseng growers in Wisconsin working about 1,500 acres. There could be several years of damage to the crops because of the time it takes to bring ginseng from a seed to a mature plant. All plants in all stages of growth are affected. Butch Weege, Executive Director of the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin, has stated that growers will asses the damage and honor contracts to China despite the losses. A Chinese company is the exclusive distributor of Wisconsin ginseng since an agreement was signed in October of 2009. Weege notes that 22 Wisconsin counties with ginseng operations are affected and that this may cause ginseng prices to go up. Acupuncturists may need to raise prices for their patients for herbal medicines due to this disaster. Weege notes that carry-over crop from 2009 may help to offset the 2010 disaster.