Growing Lavender for Profit

Tom Wajda
Adams County Master Gardner

My wife, Madeline, and I have just returned from the North American Lavender Growers Conference and the Sequim Lavender Festival both held in Sequim, Washington. The Sequim Valley lies on the northeastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula, some 90 minutes west of Seattle. Due to the Olympic Range, Sequim is in a "rain shadow" receiving 20 inches or less of rain per year.

Thirty years ago, the focus of Sequim Valley agriculture was on dairy production; today, there are only a few herds left, and Sequim has become the lavender capital of the U.S. with several hundred acres in production. While this is nowhere near the level of lavender cultivation in France, China, or even New Zealand, the fact remains that relatively small farms (5-20 acres) can provide sufficient income to support a small family. Thus, lavender should be considered as an option for farmers looking for alternatives to their present crops.

More than three quarters of Sequim’s lavender production is distilled into oils and sold on the international market; prices vary from about $30.00 to $49.50 per liter (1.1 quarts) depending on the type and quality of the oil. Oil production per acre varies greatly with the genus of lavender being grown. For example, Lavandula x. intermedia ‘Grosso’, produces 76 liters per acre in Sequim while L. angustifolia ‘Maillette’ produces only 16 liters per acre. Although the angustifolia oil harvest is much lower that that of the intermedia, the angustifolia oil, used in fine perfumes, commands a premium on the world market.

Lavender is also sold as a dried product either in bunches or as lavender buds. Both are used in crafting; lavender buds are also used for culinary purposes where the flavor of organically grown angustifolias is preferred. A major drawback in the production of dried lavender is the amount of hand harvesting required to produce quality bunches of flowers or dried lavender buds.

One of the major "sales" items connected with lavender is agritourism. The July 14-16 Sequim Lavender Festival brought in an estimated 35,000 attendees and $2,000,000 to the town; this in a region some 90 minutes by road and ferry from Seattle. Nearly 150 vendors were set up in the town and at the eight farms on the tour.

Lavender requires three essential elements for good growth – full sun, good drainage, and a pH of 7.0-7.5. Ideally, it should be planted on a south-facing slope. Good drainage is critical as lavender does not require a great deal of water. In France, it grows well with about 20 inches of rain a year – about half the amount we get in the mid-state region. Moreover, while lavender is not subject to too many diseases, it can be affected by mildews and fungi brought about by hot, humid conditions.

Washington State University has been very supportive of the move from dairy to lavender for the farmers of the Sequim Valley. Curtis Bues, Washington State University Extension Director for the Sequim area, has written a handy 28 page guide for the commercial farmer entitled Growing and Marketing Lavender. Copies may be obtained from the WSU Bulletin office at 800-723-1763 or online at Virginia McNaughton’s The Grower’s Guide to Lavender and Ellen Spector Platt’s Lavender: How to Grow and Use the Fragrant Herb are both extremely informative and useful.

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables

Read other gardening articles by Tom Wajda