Stevia – What is it and can you grow it?

March 25, 2012

I fell off the Google Cliff this morning.  That’s what I call it when I start searching for one item and fall into 10 more that interests me.

Subject today: Stevia, a wild plant from Paraguay

Stevia is a natural sweetener. FDA approved it for consumers in 2008. Stevia has zero calories, is green and clean and it costs way more money than a bag of sugar or zero-calorie competitors.  That means it has a ready-made market for the healthy, weight conscious average Americans. Curious?  Go to to your local Kroger and check the sugar aisle. Note the price difference between stevia and sugar or one of the zero calorie alternatives. This is no flash in the pan product.

Why should this matter to farmers? 

Rebaudi’s Stevia (official plant name) matters because it  has the potential to be a very important cash crop.  A recent National Public Radio story described  Stevia as “the new gold rush.”

The largest stevia producer is China, but there are numerous U.S. companies making a push to grow the plant on a big production basis. One of them is S&W Seed Company in Five Points, California. I’ve been to Five Points. Let me assure you that it’s not big city California. Five Points is rural countryside with a background of low hills. It’s  miles and miles of open land where you can grow everything from cotton to tomatoes. S&W Seed is no new start up company. The family ranch has been growing and marketing alfalfa seed to farmers of the Central Valley for over 30 years.

So, just for grins I kept googling and found actual information about the environment needed to grow stevia. I’ve excerpted that information below, which got me to thinking – maybe California isn’t the only possibility for growing a stevia crop.

“Stevia apparently will produce best where there is a long growing season, minimal frost, high light intensities, and warm temperatures. The plant is not adapted to water stress or saline conditions. Stevia occurs naturally on acid soils of pH 4 to 5 but will grow well on less acid to neutral soils with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Although a wide range of sites for experimental plantings might be tried throughout the state, southern coastal valleys away from the immediate influence of coastal fog would appear to be the most suitable. Any production should be attempted with caution appropriate for a new crop with untested potential and problems.” — From Rebaudi’s Stevia: Natural Non Caloric Sweetners

Thanks for reading.










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