By Connor Lynch
WINDHAM — A theft of almost $120,000 in ginseng last month has some Western Ontario growers concerned that there could be more thieving to come. That’s because some growers are stockpiling their ginseng after Ontario’s largest ginseng buyer had a public meltdown earlier this year.
About 2,370 lb. of ginseng was stolen from a ginseng farm in Windham in September. Ginseng is usually stored in 75 lb. boxes. The stolen crop would fill about 30 boxes.
Ginseng farmer Peter VanBerlo, who grows 75 acres of ginseng near Simcoe, said Hong Kong-based Hang Fat used to buy about 60 per cent of Ontario’s ginseng. China is the largest market for ginseng, using it as a traditional medicine.
Hang Fat stopped buying after it was embroiled in legal issues and internal problems that cost it 90 per cent of its market value this year. Since then VanBerlo hasn’t been able to move 41,000 lb. of last year’s ginseng harvest, valued at $2 million.
“Now that’s susceptible to theft,” said VanBerlo. He said that he expected to have sold last year’s crop by now but there are no new buyers.
VanBerlo added that the turmoil has made Chinese consumers skeptical, small ginseng buyers nervous, and medium sized-buyers predatory. “They’re trying to get it for nothing. Dirt cheap prices, below cost,” and growers say they’ll wait for a better price as ginseng can keep for years
Ontario Ginseng Growers’ Association chair Carl Atkinson said that the theft is about 10 per cent of an average harvest of ginseng. “It’s nothing trivial.”
Ginseng has long been a target for thieves.
A farmer in La Salette, southwest of Brantford, was robbed in 2011. Thieves made off with over 8,000 lb. of ginseng valued at more than $300,000.
Last year, a Burford-area farm in Brant County was robbed, and in 2014 more than $3,000 in ginseng was stolen from a farm in Norwich Township.
Illegal poaching of the wild root in the United States, particularly in the Great Smoky Mountains, is so common that there have been two television documentaries on it. Appalachian Outaws appeared on the History Channel, and Smoky Mountain Money aired on National Geographic.