Ginseng Hunting is a real thing

The editor’s email had a subject line of “upcoming assignments.” One of the topics was ginseng hunting. The text message back to the editor bluntly said, “that’s a thing?” While it may be difficult to convey surprise by text message, that was a pretty good effort.

Turns out that ginseng hunting is not only a real thing, it can be financially lucrative (not without a lot of hard work over time) and it’s even regulated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Ginseng is a natural resource that grows in the wild and people in the Far East are willing to pay a good amount of money for the root of a ginseng plant. John Peterson of Rushford is someone who’s been ginseng hunting for a long time. He got into it through another outdoor activity.

ginseng hunting

Wild ginseng hunting was the strangest story subject I’ve ever received, but it was also one of the more interesting. Ginseng hunting is the most popular outdoor activity in southeastern Minnesota that no one talks about. (Photo from owlcation.com)

“I’m a trapper,” Peterson said. “Trappers dig roots. Every October, when I return from a North Dakota pheasant hunting trip, I’m in the woods every day until February. I don’t miss a day and my wife will attest to that.”

The ginseng hunting season opens on Friday, September 1. Hunters can go out and dig up ginseng plants until the first frost. After that, the leaves drop off and only the stem remains. Then, you really have to know your plants in order to dig up the right roots. When John was more of a regular hunter, he used to clear a good amount of money to supplement his income, but it took a long time to get to that point. Peterson got started years ago by listening to what he called the “old-timers” as they were talking about it.

“One night I was out raccoon hunting,” Peterson recalled, “and I saw a plant with red berries on it and the guy I was hunting with said ‘that’s ginseng.’ I cut it, dug it out, took the root home and pressed it. Then, I walked around the woods carrying that root in my hand and matching it up.”

You have to know what you’re looking for as certain other plants look a lot like ginseng. There have to be a certain number of leaves on the plant before they’re legal to be picked. In fact, unlike Minnesota, people in Wisconsin who harvest ginseng are required to bring in the entire plant to make sure everything is legal.

“By harvesting it, you’re spreading the seeds around,” he said. “We also rely on deer eating the berries. They’ll pass right through a deer and it gets replanted that way. That’s why you walk along a lot of deer trails, looking on the downhill side of the trail. You learn things like that over the years.

“If you’re in the woods with a lot of chipmunks, chances are good there’s some ginseng in there,” he added. “Chipmunks will bury those things all over and they’re a lot like squirrels, they only remember about half of them. It’s another thing we’ve learned by trial and error.”

Peterson said the hunters who’ve been doing this a long time will also make sure to take seed into the woods and replant them. He said the ideal way to run the season would be to charge people for a license to pick the plant, and then hunters would pay for a pound of seed to replant ginseng out in the woods while the pick it. It’s important to keep planting it so ginseng hunting opportunities are there for future generations.

“Don’t forget that when you pick the plant and dig up the root, keep the root whole,” he said. “Customers don’t want it broken. When it gets to the Far East countries, including China, if those folks can dry the root out and get it to look like a human being, they’ll make things like necklaces out of them.”

Buyers in the Far East also pulverize ginseng and use it for medicinal purposes, putting it in capsulated pills. Peterson’s brother, Ron, takes ginseng for his joints and says it helps. A Google search turned up a medicalnewstoday.com article that says ginseng is thought to boost energy levels, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and helps treat both diabetes as well as sexual dysfunction in men.

There are a lot of people in Rushford that dig up ginseng, but Peterson said, “You’d never know it.” He said they’re a pretty tight-lipped group that “trusts their camouflage” when they’re out digging up roots. Peterson has seen people walk right past him and never knew he was there. There’s also a gentlemen’s agreement when hunters do meet each other in the wild that they don’t ask each other how much they’re digging up, either.

“When I start looking for ginseng on a particular hill,” he said, “I go across it (horizontally) anywhere from 4-6 times going up to make sure I cover every inch of it. There’s no rush, so I walk slowly. The only thing you need to worry about out there is rattlesnakes. You will find patches that have snake dens. You have to respect the snakes and be careful.”

The other hazard is ground bees, especially if a hunter is allergic to bee stings. Peterson got himself into a patch of ground bees one day while on his hands and knees, digging up some ginseng roots. It was a hard way for Peterson to find out he was allergic, so now he carries epinephrine while in the woods.

“If you want to get started, you have to learn your plants,” he said, “as well as what grows with it. Ginseng loves company. When you find a plant in the woods (ginseng doesn’t like sunlight), don’t move. Just look around and you’ll probably see 30-40 more plants.

“If you like to exercise, dig roots,” he added, “because you’re going to get it.”

 

 

 

 

 

Southeast Minnesota soybean harvest underway

Farmers have grain to sell

Lisa Behnken is a crops specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester.

It’s official. Soybean harvest is underway as farmers are bringing in the first soybeans of the season. While the growing season was difficult, early soybean harvest results are described as “pretty good, all things considered.”

Lisa Behnken is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator in the Rochester office. She said things really got going around the middle of last week and continued through the weekend before rain settled in. Some of the early reports are saying yields are coming in right around 55 bushels-per-acre, roughly ten bushels lower than farmers harvested in 2016.

“Farmers may have pockets that are doing a little better than that,” she said, “which is normally the case, but when they look at field averages, some are saying closer to 60 and some say closer to 50. That’s a respectable yield. It’s not a bin-buster but it’s a respectable yield.”

It’s respectable, especially when you look back at some of the challenges in soybean fields around the area. Farmers saw a few pockets of white mold in certain fields. Periodic cooler weather and excessive rainfall made it hard to just get the beans in the ground on time. Insect pressure was hit-and-miss. Beans didn’t suffer any drought-stress this year, but, the biggest challenge they did face was weed pressure.

Soybean harvest

Soybean harvest is always a challenging time of year but southeast MN soybean fields struggled with weed pressure, thanks to cold and wet weather limiting the timing and effectiveness of herbicide applications in the spring.

“Cool and wet weather at the beginning of the growing season made it difficult for the herbicides to even activate,” she said, “so some of the weeds escaped control early in the season. If farmers have to chase weed control through the summer, it gets pretty tough. Unfortunately, by the time we got to August, there were a lot of messy soybean fields with a lot of Waterhemp and Giant Ragweed in them.”

The weather made herbicide applications difficult to get down on time in the spring. Farmers are also dealing with increasing weed resistance to herbicides. When weed density gets high in bean fields, that affects yield negatively. Behnken said weed pressure was likely the number one story in southeast Minnesota soybean fields.

Houston and Fillmore County Extension Educator Michael Cruse said soybeans are coming out in those areas as well. While there are still some soybean fields turning brown, quite a bit of beans are already out of their fields.

“With the (up until recently) dry conditions, soybean fields dried out quickly and things progressed to the point where they were ready to come out,” he said. “Soybean harvest is officially off and running.”

While there aren’t a lot of hard numbers coming into his office yet in terms of yield estimates, Cruse echoed Behnken when he said early numbers say yields won’t be as low as some may have thought coming into harvest. Early-weed control challenges and an inability to apply herbicides on time will be the biggest factor in possible yield loss.

Here’s the conversation with Behnken:

 

SE Minnesota 2015 harvest results look good

I’ve got some southeast Minnesota harvest results for 2015.  Southeast Minnesota corn harvest numbers look pretty good.

Harvest was solid in SE Minnesota

The 2015 corn harvest in southeast Minnesota looked good, according to the final numbers that came in this week from the National Ag Statistics Service office. (photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

Olmsted County: 184.9 bushels per acre

  • Dodge County: 204.0 bushels per acre (one of the top counties in Minnesota!)
  • Mower: 198.7
  • Fillmore: 192
  • Houston: 185.3
  • Winona: 186.5
  • Wabasha: 188.5
  • Goodhue: 202.4 (also one of the top counties in the state!)

 

 

Here are some of the soybean numbers from southeast Minnesota.

Soybean harvesting was good in spite of disease pressure in SE Minnesota

Despite some battles with white mold, the soybean harvest numbers looked pretty good for 2015, as the final totals were released this week by the National Ag Statistics Service office. (Photo from www.thompsonslimited.com)

 

  • Olmsted County: 54.5 bushels per acre
  • Mower: 58.2
  • Fillmore: 56.3
  • Winona: 55.9
  • Goodhue: 58.1
  • Dodge: 60.6 (One of the top returns in the state!)

 

No soybean harvest results were turned in to USDA for both Wabasha and Houston counties.

This is a neat video of corn harvest in the Mankato, Minnesota area that was shot by using a drone camera.  Take a look.