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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Close Range - Everything in Sight

Hello everyone.  Sea Buckthorn and other things have been burning my candle at both ends the past few weeks.  Mostly it is one of the age old challenges of a farmer.  Profit and loss, simply put.  My (at first) and now our (with Craig) Sea Buckthorn experiment is moving forward very nicely.
At the beginning, financial concerns were not part of the equation.  Thankfully that is still true in a practical sense.  We are both still working full time, non-farm jobs.  While our day to day duties couldn't be more different, we both are dedicated public safety employees.  We do hope, however, to take the leap into full-time agro-ecological pursuits as soon as we can.  My estimate is that will occur in a little less than three years.  Craig would like to put the pedal to the metal and compress that time frame to a few months.  This is not a conflict between us but a catalyst which keeps the many aspects of this kaleidoscopic endeavor moving and reforming in great ways.

Sea Buckthorn Profitability Potential (and other stuff)

Typical New Product Profitability Graph
This graph illustrates the 4 cycles of profitability one can expect in a successful new product.
  1. investment and research (that's where we are mostly)
  2. market development reaching a saturation plateau (yes we do some market development)
  3. stable period of profitability
  4. copycat producers create a surplus of production and the price drops
The good news is that there are so many products associated with the Sea Buckthorn plant and its berries the period of stable profitability should remain for decades.  The bad news is there are currently millions of acres (yes millions) of Sea Buckthorn in China, Russia, and Mongolia and likely more being planted all the time.  Will foreign competition effect the feasibility of North American Sea Buckthorn production?
No, I don't think so.

Transportation costs will, as they do now, make importation of all but the extractive products too expensive to import compared to local production.

Transportation of nutrients will become more important as time moves forward.  This is true in some important ways.  The fossil fuels required to build vehicles, infrastructure, and power them are dirty and increasingly expensive.  Locally derived nutrients of all sorts will be more valued by the consumer for their superior quality and health benefits along with the consumer's appreciation of the security of locally produced food and regenerative, carbon neutral fuel.  As a society, we will decentralize the current food supply chain. With forethought this will be done voluntarily.  A disaster taking the form of drought, frequent extreme weather, or bad people doing bad things will accelerate to the level of common sense the need for community self sufficiency, at least more than we have now.

Regarding market development,  I do not see any competition surrounding Sea Buckthorn in the United States.  It is in the embryonic stage in here.  The current situation is "the more the better" as the main function of this blog and other growers important first objective is simply raising awareness.  Supportive producer and marketing organizations will be indispensable.  The best in this regard will be found at  www.jiovi.com  very soon .  The site is under construction and the association area continues to be developed.  It will provide information, materials, and connections to buyers on a commercial level.  The main part of jiovi will continue to grow and serve the individual.

Opening the wilderness farm.

In a couple of days I will be at Foxgreen Farm in Seboeis Plantation, Maine for the first time since the snow melted and the mud roads firmed up a little.  My excitement is growing.  Did the Sea Buckthorn plants survive?  Were they damaged or destroyed by rodents and Moose?  These are all unknown right now and  you all will be right there with me as I find out.  

Agro-Forestry at Foxgreen Farm - Juneberries (Amelanchier)


 A recent article in Growing Magazine (click) goes into quite a bit of detail about the berry and its current status in the United States.  Similar to seaberries,  a downside is one of lack of familiarity.  Like seaberries, I predict that will change.  A member of the rose family, juneberries (also known as shadbush, shadwood, shadblow, serviceberry, sarvisberry, wild pear, saskatoon, sugarplum, wild-plum, or chuckley pear) have very showy white flowers which unfold in April and May.  
Last year I planted 100 of these plants.  According to the magazine article cited above the trials in New England are brand new and my own is one of the most substantial.  I am eagerly ready to see how these plants have survived over the winter at the wilderness farm.  The plants are hardy to -40 degrees so that should not be an issue.  They are, however, reportedly very tasty to deer and moose.  
Maybe they will have some berries on  them this year.  What a treat.  The species I planted Amelanchier canadensis is said to have seeds which impart an almond flavor when cooked.  Put that together with a berry which tastes similar and, some think, better than blueberries well I'm thinking a treat is just around the corner. 
Juneberry/Saskatoon berry bush in flower.  Bush can grow to 8-12 feet tall.


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