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Washington Grower Makes A Profit Farming Bamboo

In 1997, FARM SHOW published a story about bamboo farming and an Oregon farmer trying to make a go of it (Vol. 21, No. 2). When he eventually got out of the business, we continued to get calls looking for more information. So we recently set out to find another bamboo farmer who knew what's happening with this unique "crop."
  Wade Bennett, owner of Rockridge Orchards & Bamboo Grove in Enumclaw, Wash., understands bamboo because he's been growing different varieties since 1989.
  Bennett says bamboo's popularity started growing in 1997 after a forest and timber conference held in Washington brought out a lot of "alternative lifestyle" people. Many were unprepared for the time and labor involved to grow bamboo. "Those who weren't professional farmers washed out. The people who knew how to grow things for a living succeeded, and succeeded fairly well," Bennett says.
  He started growing bamboo because the Cambodian workers he employs said bamboo would be great for supporting newly growing trees in his pear orchard.  
  He now grows 5 1/2 acres of bamboo on his 40-acre farm east of Tacoma and Seattle. "I'm within 15 minutes of about 2 million people," he says.
  Bamboo is a multipurpose plant that can be used for everything from food to furniture. It grows like grass but looks more like trees. "Any place that grass will grow well, most of the hardy temperate timber bamboos will grow," Bennett says. They're hardy to about 0 degrees but some varieties can handle 20 below zero degree temps.
  Some bamboo grows as tall as a silo. "I've got bamboo here that grows up to 54 ft. tall. The big bamboo will also get as wide as someone's leg in dia.," he says.
  But bamboo doesn't always grow that tall or wide. "The problem with bamboo is that it's very site and weather climate specific. What grows 50 ft. tall here in western Washington, might grow to 70 ft. tall in Oregon or 5 ft tall in Texas," Bennett says.
  Bennett sells all parts of the bamboo plant. The shoots are served as a garnish in high-end five-star restaurants. He also sells it to some brokers for Asian grocery stores. The bench price for bamboo shoots is $2.50 per lb. It retails for between $5 and $6.
  The poles and canes are sold to furniture makers. Prices for cane depends on dia., straightness and quality. A 4-in. dia. cane that's 12 ft. is worth about $45.
  Small poles and scraps sell as stakes to hold up flowers and other plants. During the winter, the Bennetts sell new plants to mail order nursery houses. Depending on the species, they sell for about $35 and $100.
  "The return on a bamboo grove is $15,000 to $18,000 wholesale per acre. We don't have to do any advertising at this point. Customers find us," he says.
  Bamboo has very few insect or disease problems. The plants need irrigating during mid-summer because it's hot and wet during the summer where these plants are from. Other than that, they're pretty carefree.
  Bamboo doesn't like salt fertilizers so farmers need to use a lot of organic materials to keep up its growth. It sprouts new canes every spring or summer and those canes, depending on the age of the grove, can grow a few inches per day to a few ft. per day. "We have a few Japanese varieties that are capable of topping out at 50 plus ft. in 30 days," he says.
  Harvesting the shoots is done manually and is similar to harvesting asparagus. It's fairly labor intensive. Cutting the full-grown canes is more like cutting wood. Harvesting whole plants, on the other hand, is done with a back hoe.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Rockridge Orchards & Bamboo Groves, 41127 - 212th Ave. SE, Enumclaw, Wash. 98022 (ph 360 825-1962). Or visit the Washington State University, Vancouver Research & Extension Center's website: http://agsyst.wsu.edu/bamboo.htm).

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2005 - Volume #29, Issue #4