Striking oil: Meadowfoam looks lovely, smells good, and a gallon can sell for $200

June 2012 Posted in Business

By P. MillirenLeft to right: Don Doerfler, Rob Duerst and Doug Duerst in a field of meadowfoam at Ioka Farms.

How does meadowfoam, a delicate white flower grown on the hills in and around Silverton, help fuel a race car and erase wrinkles?

Simple. The plant’s seed is turned into high-grade oil that is used for car engines and cosmetics.

Take a spring drive from Silverton to Stayton and you’ll likely spy fields of the fragrant white flower in bloom. From a distance, the hills appear to be covered in snow.

Ioka Farms, located between Silverton and Stayton, is one of largest producers of meadowfoam in Oregon. Only 32,000 acres of meadowfoam are planted in the state, and Ioka farms is one of the few growing the sweet-smelling plant in the northern Willamette Valley.

Most farmers growing meadowfoam are located between Eugene and Salem. Ioka has produced a variety of crops during the past four generations, but the century farm has been featured meadowfoam as a rotation crop for 30 years.

Don Doerfler, who directs daily operations at the farm, said meadowfoam is one of the earliest crops at Ioka Farms. The annual is planted in September or October and harvested in late June or early July for its seed.

“Each flower ideally has five seeds in it, which means the honeybees did their job properly. Sometimes you will find they have four. The seed yields have varied most years between 1,000 to 1,300 pounds per acre,” Doerfler said. “Meadowfoam is a native wildflower which grows here in the Pacific Northwest, but experimental cultivation of it began in the late 1950s as the USDA was searching for plants that might provide a renewable source of raw materials for high-grade oils for industry.”

Another product created from the meadowfoam fields is honey, he said, adding the meadowfoam flowers need to be pollinated in order to produce seeds.Meadowfoam

“We have a beekeeper with several hundred hives out here,” Doerfler said. “If it is overcast or raining the blossoms close however. So we need those sunny days.”

Doug Duerst is the field crop production manager and has been involved in his family farm’s operations for 27 years.

He said the first commercial crop of meadowfoam was grown in 1974. Ioka Farms plants meadowfoam to break the cycle between different grass varieties.

“This year, however, we drilled the meadowfoam seed directly into the stubble from last year’s wheat. The wheat stubble acts like a trellis for the meadowfoam,” Doug Duerst said. “This also helps protect the soil.”

Rob Duerst is the seed cleaning and marketing division manager and has been involved in the farming operations of since he was eight years old.

After the meadowfoam is harvested, the seed is sent to California for oil extraction. The oil is stored in 55-gallon drums and sent to various manufacturers.

“The oil is then used in beauty products like Bonne Bell and Age-defying cosmetics,” Rob Duerst said.

“The oil gets sent to places all over Europe, China and Japan. The oil from meadowfoam seed has unique chemical properties that make it one of the most stable vegetable oils known,” Doerfler said.

“Natural Plant Products is the manufacturing and marketing subsidiary of Oregon Meadowfoam Growers, a cooperative of 54 members belonging to multi-generational farms in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and how we market the product.”

According to Oregon Meadowfoam Growers, meadowfoam oil is 20 times more stable than soybean oil, which means it does not deteriorate as readily when exposed to air. A gallon of meadowfoam oil is worth about $200 retail.

Meadowfoam plants grows to a height of 10 to 18 inches and at full bloom, the creamy white flowers resembles sea foam on the surf when the wind blows the flowers, which is how the plant acquired its name.

Many of the people who work on Ioka Farms are family members and still live on the land.

The original patriarch of the family named the farm “Ioka” around 1878. The local native name translates into “beautiful, fertile, rolling hills,” Rob Duerst said. “It is certainly well named, especially as you view the blooming meadowfoam.”

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