About 10 years ago, while a student at NC State, Donny Lassiter of Jackson, North Carolina began looking for a niche crop to supplement farm income when commodity prices were low.
With the thinking that people will always spend money to support a hobby, Lassiter landed on chufa, a seed crop grown from tuber stock, used for wild birds and water fowl:
“It’s a tuber crop, but we sell it as a seed for other land owners, hunting plantations, that kind of thing, to plant as a food source for turkeys and water fowl.”
Lassiter explains on how he landed on the obscure crop:
“I just looked at the similarities to the peanut, we were already peanut growers and, so if we could grow peanuts, we could grow this stuff, kind of went at it from that angle, but the peanut equipment didn’t work out as well as I had hoped, we actually had to engineer a lot of the equipment we use now in harvesting.”
Lassiter explains that he has to market his own product:
“Starting attending hunting shows, putting ads in hunting magazines, and then word of mouth, of course. Just went from two acres, to 10 acres, to 30 acres, and we eventually got up to 60 acres of chufa, had a pretty good wholesale business as we went along, we were probably 40% wholesale and 60% retail. I guess the product differential that we had with our product was that it was produced here in the United States, where a lot of the other chufa being sold by other seed companies was being produced in Africa or Spain or something like that.”
Even though chufa is a tuber crop, Lassiter explains, that once planted it’s not there forever:
“The wildlife, the turkeys, the water fowl, whatever it may be actually eats the tuber that would germinate the second year. They’re actually scratching at the ground, that kind of year, to actually get what you planted. Usually, you can get a two year crop out of it, you’ll get a volunteer crop the second year, but after the second year, you have to replant it.”
As far as growing season is concerned, Lassiter says chufa is a good fit with their conventional row crops:
"We plant the end of April, and we harvest the end of August, first of September. We plant a little bit early just to get it finished and out of the way before we get into peanuts, cotton and that kind of thing.”
Donny Lassiter of North Hampton County, North Carolina.