SIMCOE — The storm surrounding Ontario’s ginseng market has surged, swirled, and finally settled. Almost two years after Hong Kong’s Hang Fat, the single largest buyer of ginseng in Ontario, spectacularly imploded, the buyer has paid up its suppliers and recouped its market.
It’s an almost unbelievable ending to the saga for Simcoe-area grower Peter Van Berlo. Buyers from other companies moved in and made low-ball offers in the wide-open market that Hang Fat left in its absence. But they were rebuffed by growers who knew the value of their product. “These other companies, they were making offers that didn’t make sense,” Van Berlo said. “They could’ve grabbed it all and made some serious progress in terms of market share.”
For Ontario’s 150 ginseng growers, who harvest about 3,000 acres of the crop, their product’s durability helped them weather Hang Fat’s lean times. Once dried, ginseng lasts indefinitely, letting growers like Van Berlo stockpile until the price rebounded.
Van Berlo ended up selling nearly $4 million worth of ginseng he’d accumulated over two years to Victory Ginseng, a supplier for the Hong Kong company. “I never feared it wouldn’t sell. There was politics, but that had to clear up.”
When it did, Hang Fat was back on top, he said.
About 96 per cent of the ginseng grown in Ontario ends up in Asia. Much of it goes to the traditional medicine market in China. Surprisingly, there have been Ontario growers sending ginseng to China for 300 years, said Ontario Ginseng Growers Association chair and Norfolk County grower Carl Atkinson.