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Published October 19, 2010, 11:16 AM

Prices for ginseng highest in decades

WAUSAU, Wis. — Wisconsin’s ginseng crop is commanding the highest prices in decades.

WAUSAU, Wis. — Wisconsin’s ginseng crop is commanding the highest prices in decades.

Nearly a dozen buyers from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and both U.S. coasts are in central Wisconsin to bargain on prices for the ancient medicinal root during the harvest this fall.

The ginseng root crop is going for an average $40 a pound this season, compared to last year’s average of about $27.

Ginseng normally isn’t sold until it’s washed and dried. But, this year, some buyers aren’t waiting for that.

“Sometimes, you make a better deal if you go to the farm,” said buyer Tat Kong of New Jersey. He approached growers at Heil Farms in Edgar. When Kong and the grower agree on a price, Kong attaches his seal to the barrels. The ginseng is then flown to Hong Kong, to enter duty-free before going on to China, where the root will command top dollar.

The ginseng crop in Wisconsin is worth $50,000 to $70,000 an acre this year, making it the state’s most lucrative crop per acre.

Wisconsin produces about 95 percent of the nation’s ginseng. Marathon County, with its rich topsoil and rock and granite to help drainage, produces about 85 percent of Wisconsin’s crop.

This year, the prices are the highest in decades, but the supply is short because of an unusual spring snowfall that collapsed sun shades onto the delicate plants.

“Buyers are offering probably the highest price since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but it doesn’t matter if your yields are low,” said grower Alan Hopperdietzel, who was digging ginseng last week near Athens. Hopperdietzel lost about a third of his crop this year.

“There’s such demand, we can say, ‘This is the price; take it or leave it. If you don’t want it, someone else will,” said Joe Heil, president of the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin.

The Journal Sentinel says Wisconsin ginseng is considered the best cultivated ginseng in the world by Asian buyers.