Sweet on summer savory

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian
The Lohrs' garlic harvester could also be mistaken for coming straight out of a museum.
Camera IconThe Lohrs' garlic harvester could also be mistaken for coming straight out of a museum. Credit: The West Australian

A machine that looks like something from a vintage museum is actually a Canadian farming family's answer to a weedseeker.

When Annapolis Valley farmers John and Heather Lohr made the leap from vegetables into the emerging Canadian herb growing industry they knew they would need to be innovative, particularly in regard to machinery, to produce such an unusual crop.

Mr Lohr, who is a member of the Nova Scotia parliament, said his distinctive piece of machinery used the antiquated but reliable concept of humans instead of technology to target individual weeds.

Now Nova Scotia's largest grower of the herb known as summer savory, the Lohrs have committed to not only growing the tasty salt replacement, but to processing, marketing and filling consumer orders all year round.

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He said his father, who was now 82, spent much of his time designing and building the unusual machinery required to plant such an intensive crop.

This year, the Lohrs have planted about 20 hectares of the summer savory herb plus 1.6 hectares of garlic, which they believe works well as a complementary crop.

Their garlic harvester could also be mistaken for coming straight out of a museum.

But innovation and creating opportunities appears to be a theme the Lohrs have excelled at in this business.

Despite the small scale of the property when compared to broadacre Australian farms, the cropping process does have similarities.

"We plant four rows on 30-inch row spacing, and apply 50 units of nitrogen per acre," Mr Lohr said.

"We use minimum disturbance cropping techniques and apply a knockdown early before germination."

To combat disease, the Lohrs take part in an annual land swap program with neighbours, which maximises crop rotation benefits.

Mr Lohr said the summer savory crop was harvested in late August, immediately after the garlic harvest, and was dried in a kiln before it was processed, packaged and distributed to retailers across the country.

As the biggest grower in the province, he said there was limited competition in the maritime region for his product.

"Our biggest limiting factor is access to kilns to dry the product," Mr Lohr said.

"The product can't be dried in the sun since that will bleach leaves, and consumers have demonstrated that they won't buy a bleached product.

"Seventy to 80 per cent of what we dry is thrown away since we can only sell the leaf of the product."

Summer savory is a similar herb to thyme and is used in soups, stuffings and as a flavour additive.

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