Platteville — Although Wisconsin is known for its agriculture, one crop it doesn’t see a lot of is ginger – a tropical or sub-tropical plant, and one of the most widely grown and used culinary and medicinal herbs around the world. But, with the help of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Dr. Rami Reddy, University of Wisconsin-Platteville professor of agriculture, hopes to change this and introduce baby ginger as a niche crop in Southwest Wisconsin.
Reddy’s project is sponsored through the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Services Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which aims to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.
While more than a dozen projects in Wisconsin are funded by this program every year, this is the first from UW-Platteville. When Reddy learned about this, he prepared his proposal to identify potential market outlets and produce baby ginger for the economic benefit of fresh market growers, as well as lead the efforts in sustainable production and marketing of this farm-fresh, local specialty product of Southwest Wisconsin. His proposal was accepted and the grant program awarded Reddy $63,000.
Reddy chose ginger because it is a healthful plant, used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Baby ginger is harvested at four to five months, as opposed to the nine months for fully mature ginger, making it a better fit for the short nature of Wisconsin’s growing season.
Ginger is an easy crop to grow, susceptible to fewer pests and diseases if grown appropriately. An added benefit is the crop’s attractive appearance; as opposed to fully mature ginger, the baby ginger has a bright, rosy color.
“If you are a local farmer or market vendor, you can carry your traditional items plus this one. The baby ginger is an instant draw because it appeals to the eye, so people will be drawn to your store and that helps your bottom line,” said Reddy, who added that a few vendors in the state who have sold baby ginger have received between $10-18 per pound.
Uses for baby ginger are varied and include direct consumption, as well as medicinal or therapeutic purposes. There are also possibilities for producing locally made products with the baby ginger, such as candies, ice cream, breads, tonics and beverages. “We want to make sure locally grown products are in our local communities, which is very healthful,” said Reddy, who added that he hopes this endeavor leads to spin-off products the university community can sell, similar to UW-Platteville’s sunflower oil product that launched in 2013.
Reddy’s project is innovative in its comprehensive approach to production, marketing and education. This market-driven project will not focus only on how to successfully grow baby ginger, but also on identifying potential market outlets in Southwest Wisconsin and educating and training local growers to increase their production knowledge and marketing savvy.
One of the challenges of growing ginger is that it cannot be grown in the same soil year to year. To avoid this problem, Reddy has proposed using a grow-bag method. The plants will start in the Pioneer Greenhouse in grow-bags, filled with different manure composts and grow mixes. When it is warm enough, the plants will be transported to Pioneer Farm, and replanted in a hoop structure.
Students across several disciplines will have the opportunity to help with the project. Reddy will rely on help from horticulture students to grow the ginger in the greenhouse and transfer to Pioneer Farm. Students studying agricultural engineering technology will help build the hoop structure used at Pioneer Farm.
“Students who work on this project will learn to take up a challenging assignment,” said Reddy. “What could be more challenging than growing a tropical crop in a temperate climate? If they can grow this they can grow any normal crop. Students’ creative energies will spring up and flow in all directions; I can’t wait to see what excitement this brings to campus.”
Reddy noted that he is appreciative of the efforts of faculty, students, local community members and farmers who will work together to make this project a success, including the support of Dr. Wayne Weber, dean of the College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture; Dr. Michael Compton, director of the School of Agriculture; Dr. Charles Steiner, director of Pioneer Farm and Dawn Lee, Pioneer Greenhouse manager.