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Cisneros, D. 1996. Domestic production of herbs and spices. p. 588-589. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Arlington, VA.

Domestic Production of Herbs and Spices

Dario Cisneros


Strict rules and regulations regarding agricultural practices in the growing of gourmet herbs forced Burns Philp Food Inc., to close its farming operations in the state of California. This led to the consolidation of the largest herb farm in the country, located in the Mesilla Valley in south central New Mexico. Annual and perennial herbs are grown, harvested, and dehydrated on the company's 850 acre farm. Extensive management from ground preparation through dehydration practices ensures the availability of high quality gourmet spices from year to year.

The reason for producing domestic herbs is to produce the highest quality spices in the world through total control of the crop from sowing the seeds to dehydrating and processing the finished goods. We control the cost of quality herbs and guarantee consistent high quality year after year. This gives us the flexibility to meet demand and control the availability of as many products as possible. High quality herbs are perceived to be consistent with domestic labeling, thus giving Burns Philp Food Inc. a distinct selling advantage over the competition.


Burns Philp Food Inc. owned two herb farms in California. The first located in San Jacinto/Hemet in the southern part of the state consisted of 200 acres (80.9 ha) where basil, summer savory, and tarragon where grown. The northern farm was located in Dixon and consisted of 180 acres (72.8 ha). Dill weed, thyme, rosemary, and cilantro where grown in this farm. Both of these farms operated since the early 1940s.

The consolidation of the herb farming operations required extensive research for an area that would have well drained productive soils, good reliable and cost efficient source of water, suited climate for herb production, sufficient acreage for expansion, affordable land prices, good labor source, major highway system, and available energy. After a long period of researching the southwest and Mexico, the company decided on the Mesilla Valley in south central New Mexico.

The Berino farm consists of 850 acres (343 ha) located within a five mile (8 km) radius of the plant. The facility consists of a 82,000 ft2 (7618 m2) building. Tunnel dryers, processing room, warehouse, maintenance shop, laboratory, and offices make up this building. The winter annuals grown are cilantro, dill weed, and chervil. The summer annuals grown are basil and summer savory. Perennials grown are rosemary, tarragon, thyme, and marjoram.


The cultural practices used for ground preparation are numerous and costly but necessary because no pesticides are labeled for the use on herbs and spices. This forces the farm to use additional operations to germinate weeds before planting is performed. It is not uncommon for 20 field operations to occur before the beds are prepared for planting purposes. All herbs are grown on 40" (101.6 cm) centers and are mechanically harvested using forage harvesters modified to cut and transport the crop to our harvest wagons. The harvest operation occurs throughout the day, the herbs are harvested and introduced into the dehydration tunnels within 1 h from cutting. This ensures the highest quality finished good and reduces the chances of spoilage.

All incoming product is weighed fresh for wet to dry ratios. Depending on what herb is being processed, dry weight of finished goods varies from 7.7% to 4.5% of fresh weight. All product is unloaded and conveyed through a leaf reel to remove any dirt or insects that might be on the product. From there the fresh product is loaded on trays that are manually introduced into the dehydration tunnel. Fresh product takes anywhere from 4 to 6 h to dry at temperatures of 90° to 140°F (32° to 60°C). Once the product is dried it is removed from the tunnel and unloaded onto strippers that separate leaves from stems. The leaves are conveyed onto vibratory screens and introduced into the processing lines. In the processing lines the leaves are sized and any remaining sticks or stems are removed. This is achieved using seed clippers, indents, swecos, gravity air separators, and lots of vibrating screens. Every processing line contains different magnets to remove metal and installation of metal detectors is underway. finished goods are packed in plastic liners and boxed in corrugated boxes. Composite samples of every box are sent to the laboratory for final analysis. The laboratory test for bulk index, bulk density, water activity, sieves, volatile oils, moistures, micro analysis, and any other test that a certain customer requires. Once the laboratory results are obtained the product becomes a finished good or is held back for further processing. The product is then moved to the warehouse and awaits shipment to our bottling plants or customers.

Last update June 26, 1997 aw