Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Renowned Chai-Na-Ta ginseng farm in B.C. closes

Renowned Chai-Na-Ta ginseng farm in B.C. closesChai Na Ta's Kamloops operation officially closed up shop over the weekend after 28 years.(Courtesy of Chai Na Ta)

A farm in B.C.'s Okanagan that used to call itself the world's largest producer of ginseng is calling it quits in the face of low-cost competition from China.

Chai-Na-Ta Farms Ltd. in Kamloops stopped planting the herbal remedy in 2005 and the company officially closed over the weekend as it auctioned off all of its equipment.

Menno Schellenberg, manager of B.C. operations for the company, said B.C. ginseng has not been able to keep up with cheaper markets.

"It's really an international marketing issue," Schellenberg said.

"China has started to grow a lot of acreage of North American species ginseng, and they're able to do it at a lower cost than we were, and basically forcing us out of their marketplace…Now there's only three growers left in B.C. after Chai-Na-Ta exits the scene."

At its peak, Chai-Na-Ta employed over 200 people and farmed over 480 hectares of ginseng.

"We've had an excellent time of growing ginseng in excess of 20 years in the Kamloops area," Schellenberg said.

Closure no surprise

Roy Bensons, head of B & B Ginseng in Coldstream, B.C., said the loss of the Chai-Na-Ta farm is not surprising.

"It's a shame to see the B.C. ginseng industry going down because we did produce a quality product that was recognized worldwide, but unfortunately we can't produce it at a price to be competitive in the world market," he said.

Schellenberg said the company also has an operation in southern Ontario, where it is still competitive.

Ritchie Brothers, the Canadian-based international auctioneer, handled the sale of the company's equipment.

Ginseng is grown primarily in eastern Asia. The plant's roots are taken orally and used as a remedy for everything from the common cold to impotence.