The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

March 25, 2013

Garden Club learned new Edgecombe County clary sage crop sold to perfume companies

By Dee Long

TARBORO — The Edgecombe Garden Club met Wednesday, March 6, 2013 for a 12:00 noon luncheon in the Fountains of the Albemarle.   President Pauline Nicolossi welcomed everyone and thanked Nelda Johnson for designing a bowl of pink camellias with forsythia and the Hostess Committee for doing all table centerpieces.

Blanche Scott, Hostess Chairman, described the table arrangements of yellow daffodils, yellow roses with a red tip, daphne, and nandina in short glass bowls.  Around the bowls were Easter eggs in yellow and green artificial grass. Other members of the Committee were Helen Wilson, Catherine Powers-Moseley, and Maryann Rettino.

Maryann Rettino, Third Vice President introduced Art Bradley, Edgecombe County Extension Director. He spoke on “Clary Sage (Salvia Sclareal),” a crop that has been contracted by Avoca, Inc. since 2002, but was first grown in Edgecombe County in 2012.  Much is written about it on the Internet.

Edgecombe County is growing more acreage in 2013 and production is promising to the County.  Clary Sage is sold to perfume companies and those who make clothes detergents smell better.  Tide would be an example. This different crop grows on a timeframe similar to wheat. The profit potential can be better than grain crops with average prices.

It is planted in rows and looks like tobacco early in it’s growth. One type has a white flower and the other a purple flower. When it blooms in May, people have been known to put some of those pretty flowers in their car, drive down the road and throw them out. They could not tolerate the strong pungent odor. It grows about knee high, waist high, or in some cases shoulder high.  

It can be seen on scattered farms in the county.  Two farming operations grew the crop in 2012 and more growers are looking to begin production. It has a real small seed and does not like a lot of moisture.  For a lot of our planters, it is hard to get going.

They harvest the whole plant, chop it up, wash it with an extraction agent and refine that out.  Farmers are paid based on the yield and quality of the extract from the plant. When they haul it to Merry Hill on the west side of Edenton, the Company will take a sample out of each truck. They grade the quality and quantity of the extract. The typical yield is 40-50 pounds of sclearol per acre.  They are getting a very small quantity of the extract per ton of biomass and it is more difficult for farmers to gauge their yield potential compared to harvesting actual grain from corn or soybean crops.

The Clary Sage system set up was designed to be competitive with peanuts in a contract back when there was a peanut program.  The crop is harvested throughout June and can be compatible with existing rotational patterns for some farmers. When 1/3 to 2/3 of the blossoms at the bottom brown, it is time to begin harvesting.

It is planted in late August or early September when other crops are typically in the field. It can follow a wheat crop or spring cucumber crop.  A farmer will have to work it into their crop rotation.

The company is located in Merry Hill, which is at the stoplight before you get to Edenton, travel south to Merry Hill.  R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company operated a research farm in this area and experimented with many different crops and found that the extract from clary sage provided a benefit to the fragrance industry.  In 2002, R. J. Reynolds decided they would stop operations at the farm. One guy who worked there and another person bought the plant and kept it going. With their production knowledge and the Clary Sage production around that area, they increased their marketing and production. They are the only company in the U. S. doing this.

Recent hurricanes and severe weather caused some concern since all their production was in Bertie and Hertford Counties, their entire crop could be affected.  They did not want to lose the market they built and wanted to expand the west and south.

Avoca, Inc. came to the county recruiting growers to produce the crop.  Harvesting of the crop requires completely different equipment than what growers have on their farm.  New growers can work with a company’s contract harvester to manage their crop harvest.  Silage harvesting equipment is used and a contractor from Virginia comes down to harvest for those growers.

Clary sage is difficult to get started growing as it requires a very shallow planting depth and does not like wet soil. Once it is growing, it is a very hearty plant. Fertilization is about the same as for wheat and is harvested throughout June.  

It has a hairy leaf and it will flower over an extended period of time.  When it is decided it is ready to harvest, they go through with the cutters. The cutters place the plant material in windrows to dry for two to three days. The moisture is important to get below a certain level in order for the harvested material to store in plastic forage tubes.  These tubes allow the company to spread their extraction capacity over a longer period of time.  The plant material is chopped with a forage harvester and blown into tractor trailers which haul the biomass to Merry Hill.

Continuing with the Club’s business, members approved a $100 contribution for America in Bloom.  President Pauline announced there will be three clerks from the Club at the April 28 Standard Flower Show in Rocky Mount.  Dee Long showed sample flower arrangements that could be exhibited for each of the 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 Classes. The GCNC, Inc. will be April 14-16 in Wilmington.  Information is required to be in by March 14.