Tea is growing crop in U.S. In this Feb. 29, 2016 photograph, grower Jason McDonald, at The Great Mississippi Tea Company, near Brookhaven, Miss., shows some of the tea plants he hopes to develop into a strong sustainable cash crop. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Tea is growing crop in U.S.
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After Hurricane Katrina wiped out his timber 11 years ago, Jason McDonald wanted a crop less susceptible to Mississippi's potentially powerful storms.
 
Low maintenance was also a priority.
 
"I didn't want to be a cattle farmer and chase down cattle at 3 or 4 in the morning," McDonald said.
 
A chance encounter with South Carolina tea drew him into the growing ranks of North American farmers. They are growing tea for the high-priced specialty market.
 
There's money to be made. More Americans are willing to pay premium prices for what they consider top quality. So said tea consultant Nigel Melican in a phone interview. He lives in Bedford, England.
 
The specialty tea market is growing 8 to 10 percent a year. That is according to Peter F. Goggi's 2015 market review for the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc. Such teas are particularly attractive to millennials. They "find delight in the discovery of new and differentiated flavors, ethnic or new cultural offerings and craft selections," he wrote.
 
Melican said U.S. wages are too high to compete with overseas farmers. They grow the tea commonly found on grocery shelves.
 
For example, a 4-ounce box of 50 Lipton black tea bags can be found online for $3. Connecticut-based Bigelow Tea sells the South Carolina-grown product at $7.95 for a box of 12 tea bags that weigh less than an ounce.
 
Compared with some prices, that's peanuts.
 
Eliah Halpenny of Big Island Tea lives on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.  She sells her black and green teas wholesale for about $42 an ounce. Her online retail prices work out to more than $75 an ounce.
 
Light of Day Organic Teas is in Traverse City, Michigan. There, plastic-covered "hoop houses" shelter tea plants eight months of the year. The business sells its homegrown white tea for $256 a pound. It costs $32 for a 1.5-ounce tin. It takes 70,000 hand-picked leaf buds to make a pound of white tea. That is according to owner Angela Macke.
 
"I don't recommend it to anyone as a commercial crop. You've got to love it," Macke said in a phone interview.
 
About 60 U.S. farms, with only a handful created before 2000, are growing tea, said Tygh Waters. He is president of the U.S. League of Tea Growers. He also is founder of Piedmont Tea Co. in Athens, Georgia. Tea is grown in at least 15 states and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Outside of Hawaii, it generally takes about five years for plants to grow big enough to survive repeated harvests, Walters said.
 
A tea bag helped decide McDonald's future. This was after the 2005 hurricane wiped out 75 percent of the pine trees on his farm. He owns nearly 5,000 acres near Tylertown. It is about 40 miles from what is now his Great Mississippi Tea Company in Brookhaven, Mississippi.
 
On a visit to South Carolina, he was served a tea called American Classic. The message on the teabag's envelope intrigued him - this tea was homegrown.
 
That led him to the nation's oldest working tea farm: Charleston Tea Plantation, started by Lipton in 1963 with plants that had grown wild on a defunct farm in Summerville, South Carolina. There, McDonald learned that tea comes from Camellia sinensis, which needs high heat, acidic soil, ample rainfall and humidity. Mississippi State University researchers helped him determine what varieties might be best for Mississippi.
 
After an unusually cold winter killed off nearly an entire year's stock in Mississippi, McDonald began buying seeds from overseas. He got seeds from places such as Nepal and Kenya. Now he's looking to cross cold-hardy and heat-tolerant plants. He wants to produce a hybrid that will thrive in Mississippi.
 
He's also planted seeds from a Hattiesburg woman named Penny. She gave him two huge plants for a promise to name some of their offspring after her. He says those seedlings are growing much faster than other varieties. Hoping for a copper-hued tea, McDonald named them "A Penny's Worth of Copper."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is growing tea lower maintenance than cattle?
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COMMENTS (17)
  • leeannaw-wes
    3/21/2016 - 09:07 a.m.

    Because we need tea to keep us healthy and alive and helps us thu are day even if we are going thu a very bad day tea helps us

  • zachs-kut
    3/21/2016 - 04:08 p.m.

    Because Tea is such a renewable source and it takes less work then chasing cattle everywhere. Also it would be really common if you did not need that much maintenance.

  • sethg-2-bar
    3/21/2016 - 09:38 p.m.

    Growing tea is lower maintenance than growing cattle because cattle are unpredictable. Paragraph 3 states " I didn't want to be a cattle farmer and chase cattle down at 3 or 4 in the morning." Growing cattle is a risky business. I found this article interesting because I thought tea was only grown in Asia.

  • william1108-yyca
    3/22/2016 - 03:17 p.m.

    WOW! It is amazing that tea is growing in crop U.S. Growing tea is lower maintenance than growing cattle because cattle are unpredictable. Paragraph 3 states " I didn't want to be a cattle farmer and chase cattle down at 3 or 4 in the morning." Growing cattle is a risky business. I found this article interesting because I thought tea was only grown in Asia. Maybe one day I will have a hurricane like that and maybe find tea.

  • alvinb-wes
    3/23/2016 - 02:42 p.m.

    Growing tea is way more easier than growing cattle because it is harder and it take more time to grow.when you grow tea all you have to do is plant it and take care of it daily.

  • virginiam-2-bar
    3/23/2016 - 06:00 p.m.

    Growing tea is lower maintenance the growing cattle because cattle are real animals that require a lot more attention then tea would. Obviously haveing to care for a real animal would be much more hard then caring for a simple plant. Animals can be expensive and unpredictable, verses a plant that can be cheap and easier to care for.

    I found this artical intresting because I drink a lot of tea weather it's hot or cold all throught out the day and it was nice to learn more about it

  • flynnm-612-
    3/24/2016 - 09:03 a.m.

    Growing tea takes lower maintenance than growing cattle for two main reasons I can think of.The first reason that tea is easier to maintain than cattle is that with tea plants you don't need to constantly buy then food and make sure they are inside there distinct pen to make sure they are safe.With tea plants all you need to mostly do is weed cutting and watering everyday and you will have some nice growing tea plants although certain other steps may need to be taken if necessary.Also they require less maintenance than cattle because cattle can't be kept outside in really cold weather or they will die but tea can last longer in cold weather than cattle although you still need to protect them from it if needed.

  • kenleyl-612-
    3/24/2016 - 09:50 a.m.

    they grow tea farms because they sell more and they cost cheaper

  • kenziel-hol
    3/24/2016 - 10:22 a.m.

    I don't really like tea so this story was not one that I really like but it was interesting.

  • jilliand-3-bar
    3/25/2016 - 02:14 a.m.

    Growing tea is lower maintenance than cattle because animals are much harder to care for compared to plants. With animals it would be much more labor intensive rather than plants which can be watered and left in the sun. Cattle are unpredictable and McDonald has to "chase down cattle at 3 or 4 in the morning." I thought this article was interesting because I love drinking tea. I also did not know that cattle were so hard to care for.

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