Growing Pivot-Irrigated Mint in Indiana
After irrigating, the crisp minty fragrance surrounding Shady Lane Farms, just outside of South Bend, Indiana, gives new meaning to “fresh country air.”
The 800 acres (324 ha) of peppermint and spearmint fields emit an aroma that may remind you of a stick of spearmint chewing gum. When the surface of a mint leaf is disturbed, its glands release mint oil; the same product used to flavor toothpaste, candy and breath mints.
Shady Lane Farms
Randy Matthys, owner of Shady Lane Farms, is one of only 14 mint growers left in Indiana, which was once home to more than 200 mint farms. A booming industry in the 1940s, mint has steadily become more of a specialty crop – due to the highly complex, labor-intensive process of mint growing.
Precise Irrigation With Zimmatic Pivots
The shallow roots of a mint plant make it heavily dependent on irrigation, so choosing an irrigation method that delivers a precise amount and pressure of water is imperative. Matthys uses a combination of 20 center and towable pivots, equipped with rotating sprinkler heads to irrigate his crops. He recently purchased two pivots from his local Zimmatic dealer, Irrigation Solutions, located in Lakeville, Indiana.
“The mint crop likes smaller droplets of water. Heavy, hard drops will cause the oil glands on the leaves to burst. Zimmatic pivots and sprinkler options work well for this,” says Matthys.
Indiana’s black, sandy soil not only provides the perfect environment for producing superior mint yields, its soil type has a direct impact on mint oil flavor. Companies such as Colgate and Wrigley rely on mint oil produced in the Midwest to maintain the consistency and quality of their products’ taste.
High Quality Mint Oil
“We produce some of the highest quality mint oil in the world,” says Matthys. “Mint grown in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin tends to produce a purer, milder and sweeter oil.”
Mint is a perennial plant, so once a field is established, Matthys is able to harvest the same mint crop for up to five years. He begins harvesting his crop by mowing the mint into windrows with a special swather. Then, using a forage harvester, the mint hay is picked up from the fields and transferred to wagons called “mint tubs.”
Matthys uses his own mint distillery to separate the oil from the leaves. This is done by pumping steam into the mint tubs, which vaporizes the oil. The vapor is caught, cooled to a liquid state, and stored in galvanized barrels.
From here, the oil is sold to three brokers from across the U.S. who will further refine the raw oil and ship it to the end user.
About 70% of the mint oil produced at Shady Lane Farms is used to flavor chewing gum, toothpaste and candy. So, chances are, if a spearmint breath mint has ever saved you from an evening of embarrassment – you can thank Randy Matthys and the mint growers of the Midwestern U.S. for freshening some of the country’s favorite confections.
Visit our website for more on how Zimmatic by Lindsay pivots can help make your farming operation more profitable and efficient.
About Shady Lane Farms
• Family-owned since 1932
• Located two miles outside of South Bend, Indiana
• 500 acres (202 ha) of peppermint, 300 acres (121 ha) of spearmint and 3,000 acres (1,214 ha) of corn
• 20 center and towable pivots, including a one-tower water-driven system for corners