One of Middle Tennessee State University’s newest researchers and institute directors delivered a different perspective — the political economy and economic impact of tariffs on ginseng growers — for those attending the Tennessee Ginseng Growers Fall Meeting Friday, Aug. 24, in the Science Building.
Daniel Smith, director of the new Political Economy Research Institute at MTSU and an associate professor in the Department of Economics and Finance, offered a presentation “analyzing the substantial costs of tariffs to Tennessee ginseng growers” and provided a critique of “the economic and political justifications used for tariffs” at the conference.
Ginseng growers, buyers and sellers and others came from all parts of the state for the conference, where they learned about history, export market analysis, preparation for the fall planting season, and an added-value ginseng testing certificate, among several topics. MTSU also hosted the inaugural growers’ meeting on campus in May.
“The wide consensus among economists is that steel and aluminum tariffs are likely to destroy more American jobs, especially in steel- and aluminum-using industries such as automobile industries than they will preserve in steel and aluminum industries,” Smith said.
“Trade deficits do not provide an economic justification for tariffs since trade deficits simply reflect the high level of foreign investment in the United States, helping to drive economic prosperity and job creation.”
MTSU alumnus Tom White (1984 and ’86) of Murfreesboro, who is semi-retired after a 30-year career as an environmental chemist, was attending his second ginseng growers’ meeting. He owns a 7-acre farm near Center Hill Lake in DeKalb County, and his family has 50 acres in Monroe County in East Tennessee.
“I know it’s suitable for ginseng,” White said of the Monroe County tract. “I have an interest to know about harvesting ginseng for income on land that’s typically not agricultural because of where it’s sloped and wooded. It may be a good activity for me in retirement.”
White’s father, the late Ralph L. White, served as chair of MTSU’s Department of Educational Leadership for nearly 30 years.
Ginseng is a very popular over-the-counter supplement that is used to boost the immune system. Currently, the annual world market for ginseng is just over $2 billion with a starting price of $400 per pound for mature ginseng roots.
“I would like to see us become the greatest state in America” for ginseng, state Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, Tennessee, told the meeting attendees. “Those people in Tennessee are doing it right.”
Faison added that he’s “excited to see what MTSU is doing through the leadership of Dr. (Sidney A.) McPhee and Dr. (Iris) Gao. They’re going to make Tennessee be the go-to state for exporting, and I’m excited to help in any way I can.”
MTSU alumnus Paul Martin Jr. discussed the university’s trip to China in May, where MTSU announced a partnership with Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants to create a joint ginseng institute to study, develop and promote Tennessee-grown herbal products for sale in Asia and other emerging markets.
Other speakers included Andrea Bishop, ginseng coordinator with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, who provided the history of Tennessee’s ginseng program; MTSU School of Agriculture professor Nate Phillips, who discussed the fall planting season; and Dr. Mengliang Zhang of MTSU’s Department of Chemistry, who spoke on an added-value ginseng testing certificate.
Details for the next growers’ meeting will be announced on the new webpage, www.mtsu.edu/tcbmr/ginseng.php, said meeting organizer Gao, who is an associate agriculture professor and researcher with the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research.
For more information about ginseng, contact Gao at 615-898-2430.
MTSU’s School of Agriculture is one of 11 departments in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)