Bill Schroeder was busy this year with calls from farmers wanting to learn about seabuckthorn.
Schroeder said the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration shelterbelt centre at Indian Head, Sask., fielded about 400 calls from people interested in growing the plant as a commercial crop.
“I guess it’s a sign of the times,” said the PFRA tree improvement specialist. “We get a lot of people looking for different options.”
Seabuckthorn yields berries and leaves that can be harvested and processed for a range of products, including beverages, cosmetics and natural remedies.
Already used in prairie shelterbelts, the plant is now being grown in small orchards across Western Canada.
Canada Seabuckthorn Enterprises Ltd. of Peachland, B.C., wants to see the industry expand in Western Canada. But the company’s chief executive officer said growth must be gradual, allowing markets and processors to keep pace with production.
“You don’t build an elevator before you plant the wheat,” said Colin McLoughlin.
Canada Seabuckthorn hopes to next year open a processing plant for the berries and leaves at a former bottling plant in Wynyard, Sask.
Dried juice powder and oils will come from the berries, said McLoughlin, while the leaves can be used to make tea. The oils will be extracted and sold in bulk to companies producing cosmetics, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals.
Processing at the Wynyard plant is expected to begin next year, but McLoughlin said it won’t reach full production on its first shift until 2004. By then, there should be enough mature seabuckthorn orchards to yield the 200,000 kilograms of berries needed for a full shift.
Close to 600 acres of seabuckthorn are grown across Western Canada under contract with McLoughlin’s company. Half of those acres are in Saskatchewan.
Allen Smith, president of the British Columbia Seabuckthorn Growers Association, advises anyone thinking about growing the plant commercially to start small.
Although he thinks seabuckthorn has potential, he said there is still much to learn about growing and harvesting the orchards.
“I wouldn’t tell anyone they’re going to get fabulously rich growing seabuckthorn. Go one step at a time and don’t quit your day job.”
There are plans to build a processing plant in B.C. that can accommodate seabuckthorn and other specialty crops.
Smith said that will happen once the volume of berries warrants the expense.