Mostly due to its market value, tea may be an attractive specialty crop. Brantlee Spakes Richter, University of Florida (UF) senior lecturer, believes the crop has great potential in the U.S. market.
Richter has been working with tea for a little over a year now. She is studying how to best grow the crop in Florida. However, she hopes to expand her studies to explore the economic value of tea and the different markets in which it can be sold. Richter and other UF researchers have co-authored a grant proposal with Mississippi State. Richter saysa big part of that proposal is studying the tea market in the United States.
For drinking tea, Richter said there are two different markets for growers to consider: high-end and mechanical harvest. The high-end market includes the tea found in specialty tea shops. It is more expensive to produce because it is highly labor intensive. The first buds need to be hand-picked in order to produce the high-end, quality product. Growers in Hawaii grow tea for the high-end market. “They’re the only state in the U.S. that has a well-coordinated tea market and program,” Richter says.
The mechanical-harvest market includes the store-bought brands, such as Lipton. This market is much more feasible for most growers.Sincethe tea is mechanically harvested, growers do not have to worry about labor costs. Although Richter is not sure which market Florida growers will fall into, she believes the mechanical-harvest market may end up being the best option.
Richter has already completed some basic preliminary research on the local tea market through surveys. She mainly wanted to find out how much money people would pay for tea and if they would be willing to pay more for locally grown tea. After completing this survey, Richter is excited to study the economic value of the crop in more depth. By the time her research is complete, she wants to be able to tell growers which markets would suit them best.
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