Due to an unexpectedly warm winter in some parts of the US, leaf farmers are rolling in a bumper crop. Unfortunately for the farmers, most of whom work on small, single-family parcels, the leafy abundance is expected to result in free-falling prices.
“We expect the average backyard foliage farmer to bag a net loss this year,” says a spokesperson for the National Association of Leaf Producers. “Piles of farmers may leave the business entirely.”
Unlike other crops, the US government does not provide cash to artificially support the price of leaves. That means when markets are overleafed, many farmers simply let the crop rot where it lies.
Environmentalists applaud this approach. But industries that depend on leaf farmers, including leaf blower manufacturers and leaf collection services, could suffer if the practice becomes widespread.
Experts are divided over the best way to handle the leaf overload. Some feel Congress should intervene. Others believe farmers themselves need to find a way to branch out into additional markets. A common suggestion: cultivating drug companies, who have an insatiable need for new compounds.
But farmers say either approach ignores the fact that the leaf harvesting industry is drying up and blowing away.
“Kids aren’t interested in raking leaves,” says one. “Once us old rakers turn tines up, it’s the end of an era.”