What is Echinacea Worth?

Echinacea Farmer, Neighbour to Clash in Court over Destroyed Crop 
By Conrad Richter 

April 30 -- A Minnesota echinacea farmer is takinng his neighbour to court for destroying his crop two years ago. At issue is the value of a six and a half acre field of Echinacea angustifolia, the popular cold-remedy herb. 

It was the neighbour, Charles Brantner, who started legal action against the echinacea farmer. Brantner Farms sued for "adverse possession", claiming that Lee Garner, the echinacea farmer, had no right to farm the land. When Brantner disked the echinacea field, destroying the crop in its first year, Garner counter-sued. 

According to Garner, Brantner is not the legal owner of the land; Garner bought the land five years ago. But Brantner improperly claimed a subsidy for the land under the Conservation Reserve Program, a federal program whereby the government pays landowners to take farmland out of production. When Garner plowed the idle land in 1999 and seeded Echinacea angustifolia, Garner was first physically threatened and then sued by Brantner. That's when Brantner disked the echinacea field and reseeded it with grasses in a bid to get the land qualified for the subsidy program again. 

The case is significant because the court will be asked to determine the value of a first year perennial crop which does not begin to yield marketable product until the second year at the earliest. The court will be asked to assess the value of leaves, seeds and roots that would have been produced from the crop. 

Brantner hired agronomist Dr. Cheryl Wachenheim of North Dakota State University to assess the value of the crop and the lost profits. In an affidavit filed with the court, she puts the damages for lost profits at over $90,000 (before fixed costs). However she writes, "It is extremely important that the speculative nature of these estimates be considered." In a second calculation, which she recommends to the court, she puts the damages at no more than the cash rent value of the land, about $339 per year for the 6.5 acres. 

In an affidavit filed by leading herb crop expert Richard Alan Miller on behalf of Garner, Wachenheim's numbers are disputed. Miller claims that Wachenheim erred in her assumptions and incorrectly quoted production data from his and other authors' books. Miller argues that the value of the crop is much more than Wachenheim's highest figures, even in the face of declining market prices. 

The case is scheduled to be heard in Moorhead, Minnesota, on May 15. 


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Posted: 05-17-01