Growing Lavender: What Does It Take?

planting machine built by Gary Young in 1994

Gary’s planting machine he built in 1994. Spikes on the wheels make holes; workers sitting on the bench take herbs from the three racks and plant them.

Let’s examine the facts. I travel an average of six weeks a year just to visit growers and distilleries around the world and have been doing this for 25 years. I have watched farms come and go and have watched distilleries dismantled and sold as scrap iron. I have also watched fields replaced with standard crops of grape seed, wheat, corn for bio-fuel, and hemp for rope and building material. The crop just depends on the commodity market for the year. Why are the crops changing so dramatically?

As a born rancher and farmer, I can easily understand. As a businessman, I can also easily understand. Let’s look at some more facts.

When I started my first farm in 1992, wages were $3.25 an hour for farm labor. We were not required to pay overtime or benefits, and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) never dictated how we operated our business. Diesel fuel was under $1 per gallon, and we could buy a good used 110 hp Massey Ferguson 2705 tractor for $5,000 to $6,000.

In 1992 the price of lavender essential oil from France was $78 a kilo, plus shipping FOB France. Good farmland was $600 to $1,000 per acre.

To grow lavender, you must have a greenhouse to germinate the seed and create starts for spring planting. You also must have a planting machine, or you have to plant by hand. After you plant the starts, you must wait three years before the first harvest. Then how do you harvest?

You can’t harvest with a wheat combine, hay swather, potato digger, or corn harvester, and no equipment is manufactured in the U.S.A. for planting or harvesting lavender. Therefore, I built my own planting machine and have engineered and built two lavender harvesters.