Growing tea in Mississippi?!

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This topic contains 36 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Xavier Xavier 2 years, 3 months ago.

  • Profile photo of Jackie Jackie

    Thoughts on this anyone? Jason McDonald from FiLoLi Farms in Brookhaven, MS has big plans to start growing tea. He believes the state’s climate is suited perfectly, and is hoping for success with his 7 year plan. Beginning in 2014 with 60,000 small and large leaf tea plants on 10 acres, he forecasts his first harvest for 2017. Anyone interested in working on a tea farm? Looks like he’s looking for some people. I’m a little skeptical of this adventure, but I’m all for trying. It’ll probably be mostly consumed as iced tea down there, but tea is good, hot or cold.

  • Profile photo of Xavier Xavier

    I am curious to see what will become of this idea.

    How long before a tea tree is “operational”? Will he get subsidies meanwhile?

  • Profile photo of Jackie Jackie

    @xavier He wants to plant the starter bushes in 2014 and expects to be able to harvest three years later. 

  • *Mississippi is very hot and humid, almost like (a more moderate) Assam, so I assume that will be the variety that will do best. Pollution from the nearby highways mentioned in the article probably won’t make for great tea, anyways, but what the hell, why not try? I have no doubts that they will be able to grow tea in Mississippi.

    I think the big problem will be labour costs. Unless they use migrant workers (which will be more difficult given the harsher immigration laws passed recently, mainly by Southern states like Mississippi), they are going to have to pay through the nose to get all that tea planted and picked, and a lot of us Westerners, even the poor ones, will balk at doing this kind of agricultural labour. 

    So that’s probably the biggest obstacle. But the dude seems to have the right attitude about the whole thing: “Well, let’s see what happens.”

    Incidentally, the article forgets to mention that Africa is a major tea growing region. I dare say that they grow more tea than South America does.

  • *No, I will not be subsidized. The pollution from nearby highways are not an issue as I am 7 miles from the nearest highway. They mentioned South America because Argentina is the number one importer to the USA as of late. But yes, thank you… I am going out on a limb here… I appreciate your support and any feedback. Follow us on Facebook FiLoLi Farms, Brookhaven, MS for pictures and progress.

  • What-what-WHAT?!?! More A-MURR-ican tea?! I very, very like. Wishing you the best of luck @filoli-farms. Ask anyone here, I’m a huge proponent of American tea-growing efforts. And Mississippi would have a great climate for that sort of venture – given it’s subtropical leanings.

    My only question would be, is three years enough of a turn-around time to start cultivating newly-grown plants? Usually they take eight years to grow before they’re considered ready for plucking.

  • Profile photo of Xavier Xavier

    @lazyliteratus after reading @jackie answer the feasibility of the timeframe was my next question.

    And welcome @filoli-farms

  • Profile photo of bram bram

    *@filoli-farms Welcome and good luck. Suggestion: start a blog here and blog about your adventures. I think there are several people here who would enjoy that.

  • *Since these are propagated genetic clones and given the soil amendments and irrigation as well as subtropical climate, we can produce some tea within 3 years. If starting from seed, the precommercial phase is drastically extended by twice sometimes three times as long as starting from cuttings. The original article can be found at and has been passed along. The article in the Clarion Ledger is a hybrid of a news clip from WLBT and the article in the Daily Leader. Some of the facts in the CL article are not exactly what was said originally. Also, I am 95 miles north of New Orleans in Southwest Mississippi not central which is a key element because the growing zone from USDA in Central Mississippi is different from the one I am in in SW Mississippi. Back to the original question: feasibility in 3 years… Yes… we will harvesting small amounts and have hired the services of a tea taster to blend our tea at that point. The commercial harvest will more than like begin somewhere around the 5 year mark or 2019. I will try to set up a blog if I can figure it out… I am not all that technologically savvy. You can follow us on facebook at FiLoLi Farms in Brookhaven, MS and we have purchased domain but have not made a page yet.

  • I live in Baton Rouge, LA and cannot wait to see how it turns out. Wishing you the best!

  • Hi Jason @filoli-farms.  I am currently, or have recently been, technical consultant to five different tea growers in the USA (large and small).  It’s an exciting concept and challenge – to balance the disadvantage of US high labor cost against the advantage of access to cutting edge technology in an industry that has resolutely ignored innovation for centuries.  Should you need nursery, planting, harvesting, or processing advice based on 30 plus years of hands on practical experience in 26 tea growing countries, then please contact me: nigel (at) teacraft (dot) com or (twitter) @teacraftecm.

  • I visited with Donnie Barratt at Fairhope AL two weeks ago.  He has 40,000 tea bushes on his farm which derive from the Lipton collection that now forms the base of Bigelow’s Charleston Tea Farm, and he makes and sells his own tea.  Donnie has used Chinese methodology for planting and his processing is self taught – he is would be the first to admit he could have done things faster and better with appropriate advice.  I have a great respect for Chinese tea production methods – but they are not appropriate for US tea growing conditions.  American tea planters need to test and forge their own ways rather than blind copy others.  American tea planters also need to work together, sharing information, rather than jealously guarding their secrets.  The US specialty tea market is broad enough for all to prosper – but the investment in knowledge required to make US production cost effective leaves no room for endless parallel reinventions of the wheel.   

    Nigel at Teacraft 

  • Nigel @teacraft – Is there a way of contacting Mr. Barratt about his tea and acquiring some via sale? Just curious from a blogging standpoint. Thanks.

  • Geoffry – see  Donnie is director of the Fairhope municipal museum and apparently this is in conflict with him running a tea selling business so he no longer actively sells.  However his contact details are in the public domain: see so you might be able to persuade him for a sample.  I preferred his black (hard withered like a Darjeeling) to the green, but both creditable hand made teas.

    Nigel at Teacraft

  • *I would refute his claim of having Lipton stock which is the basis of American Classic Tea, as I know from first hand knowledge (unless he stole it through cuttings that were not authorized), he would not have this stock I tried as well from one of the partner’s in South Carolina and can tell you that those particular plants have not been nor will be for sale. So that claim is doubtful at the very least. I think he wanted to piggyback on the success of a great company with a superior quality tea. It is a work of mystery so I have sought out the advice of someone in the USA that has created and continues to create great tea in the USA. It does not come at a cheap price, but I agree with Nigel that we need to share our successes and our failures here in America to be able to make it. I have done just that. The mechanization required for this venture is a daunting task to say the least. The sheer cost of bare-boned 10 acres with harvester and processing plant with a tea bagging machine will cost a little under 2.5 million US Dollars and that is provided at a cost because I own a 30,000 sq foot building already that will house the processing plant and I own the land. As of late, I will fund this entire venture out-of-pocket (caveat– if government money comes available, I will take it, but I am not actively pursuing it… who wouldn’t? LOL) I will also say, the outpouring of support from our local community and state leaders has been amazing and we are making this a joint-effort as the State of Mississippi will benefit from this R&D project. Remember, The Charleston Tea Plantation and the Fairhope Tea Plantation are coastal, I am not. Tea has never been attempted in my growing zone or my elevation in the USA. I ask any local “hobby farmers” of tea in the US, please contact me at coaster_25 at hotmail dot com. I would love input, however, a commercial tea plantation is a totally different breed from a handcrafted or hand-picked hobby grower. In order to reduce costs, increase productivity and efficiency, and make a go of this, I need to know everything I can. I don’t want to sound snobbish by categorizing the hobby farmer from the commercial producer, but I do want to point out the difference for clarity of the blog readers. I feel that the Fairhope Tea Plantation was not quite a conflict of interest point, but more of a processing point and monetary point as to why they no longer exist. When I looked into this venture, I knew it would be costly, but my rough estimates only got me 1/4 of the way to the actual cost of this… I think I have a better view of the cost of the entire venture now and am proceeding, but I would have been out of money had I used my original budget projections and simply because I asked and researched and consulted with someone who had successfully done it here. Thank you for making that point Nigel and thank you for understanding that the mystery needs to be overcome for a success at this. My venture to date is still considered R&D, which is what the USA needs more of, but the downside is, It all comes at an ENORMOUS cost…. So, anyone who wants to share some insight here, feel free… or contact me directly… I came across this blog by researching everything I could on tea in the USA and I am glad I did…

  • Great project,wish you the best of luck and that we can taste the tea on 2019!

  • *Hi Jason.  A little history about Charleston Tea Farm will make things clear.  In the 1890s Dr Charles Upham Shephard planted tea in Summerville, SC using USDA purchased seed obtained from China.  By 1899 he was producing 500lb tea there. He made additional plantings with Assam seed at Pinehurst bringing the total production to 3,000lbs. However the venture lapsed with Shepard’s death.

    In the 1960s TJ Lipton decided to try tea planting in the US.  They acquired the Pinehurst collection of very overgrown bushes and transferred them to an old citrus farm on Wadmalaw Island, about 20 miles east of Charleston, SC.  This became the Lipton Tea Research Station and ran as such from 1965 to 1985.  They made selections from the Pinehurst material and planted up 300 of these – you can see them still in Field 1 of the Bigelow farm.  From selections they produced elite cultivars, some with the assistance of Clemson University. In the 80s I worked occasionally at the Lipton Station.  One of the research objectives was to test the viability of tea growing in the USA.  Out-stations were established in AL, TX, GA and test material planted.  The material at Fairhope was ripped up by a hurricane and the planting abandoned there.  It was from these bushes that Donnie Barratt’s father (the out-station supervisor) rescued a few and planted them up as a curiosity.  The three bushes still survive and provided seed and cuttings for Donnie’s farm.  Meanwhile Lipton turned their eyes towards Hawaii as a better place for US tea production and went into JV with sugar growers Alexander and Baldwin – TJL providing the plant material.  This venture foundered due to cost of production, but an employee of A&B took clones to Oregon – and some of these were eventually planted up in Bellingham, WA.  I was working on tea for Unilever from 1979 and imported Charleston clones to the UK where we grew 500 bushes.  I also exported Charleston clones to Pakistan for a Unilever tea growing venture, and to Colombia for another Unilever venture into tea growing.  

    TJ Lipton closed the Charleston Station is 1986 – it was acquired by former manager Mack Fleming and tea taster Bill Hall.  They ran the place for 10 years but the venture did poorly – it was ahead of the speciality tea boom – and ended acrimoniously and the banks foreclosed.  In around 2002 Bill Hall and Bigelow bid for the virtually derelict site and I acted as technical consultant for 3 years rehabilitating the plantings.  The subsequent success of Charleston Tea Farm is a credit to some good marketing riding the back of the specialty tea boom.

    Subsequently I re-exported some of the original Charleston clones that had been proven in Pakistan back to Hawaii, as well as 30,000 clonal cuttings from South Africa.

    So Jason, you will see that though Bill Hall is (rightly or wrongly) adamant about not selling his plants (Dr Shepard’s plants actually), that by courtesy of Lipton a lot of new tea ventures in the world are now firmly based on this original material.

    Nigel at Teacraft

  • I was not aware that the Fairhope, Al site was an original outstation for Lipton. So I stand corrected, however, I still maintain that the success of any commercial venture in the USA will ride solely on the ability to mechanize and make for a more efficient field to cup process at as low of a price as possible. Also, banking heavily on good teas and agritourism. I am actually working on a schematic with Mississippi State University to reduce the size and cost of a harvester and to increase production per acre production by looking at designing a track system so that the harvesting is more stabilized and cutting in a step plateaued design giving us the ability to cut from the sides as well as the top (which is a drawback to the Lipton harvester which can only cut from the top). So, as you pointed out, Nigel, the Americans face a difficult task to reinvent the wheel but that is a costly process. We are trying to be creative in funding and taking advantage of the recession that we are in (labor is cheaper today than 8 years ago) to experiment and research what could be the new wave of mechanized tea production. Would love to have you come visit and give any input. I am a timber farmer and tea is as foreign to me as any other agricultural product beyond my small scope of pine… 

  • *Absolutely correct – to compete with Asia and Africa the USA grower must reduce COP and increase margins.  The specialty tea boom takes care of the latter.  Ultra efficient labor use by automation, mechanization and cutting edge technology takes care of the former  Not just in harvesting but in nursery, planting, and husbandry. and in processing too.  Marketing must be directed at high end specialty teas (not commodity teas), plus an agri-tourism package crafted to suit the individual grower’s USP.

    Jason – you are right about harvesters – I have been an advocate of the rail supported harvester ever since I saw a prototype in Japan in 1995 – adjustability of table by +/- 1mm and no bouncing.  The Charleston harvester is a dinosaur from a former time

    Thanks for the invite, next time I am in the South I would love to talk tea with you.  Meantime let me have your contact email (to: nigel (at) teacraft (dot) com and I will send you our capability brochure.

    Nigel at Teacraft

  • Profile photo of Peter Peter

    @filoli-farms one thing you might consider as you begin your project is a little holiday to New Zealand to see the Zealong tea farm. I wrote a case study on them a few years ago when they first brought their tea to market and a lot of the first-world concerns that you will have to deal with in terms of costs and technology are issues that they are already dealing with or have dealt with.

    While the agricultural laws are going to be specifically different there will be similarities. As a first-world nation, with modernized labor laws, technological capabilities and so on, there are probably a lot of lessons learned available there. At large, there are not a whole lot of commercial tea farms in the first-world and you are really doing something revolutionary. Some knowledge gained from someone who has been down the road of establishing a first-world tea farm recently might be helpful.

  • *we will be launching our website at in the next two weeks

    follow us there please… we will post pics and blogs of the process… 

  • We are now pleased to announce that we are consulting with Teacraft Limited and Nigel thanks to I hope you will all follow us as we make commercial tea growing the next boom crop of Mississippi… We look forward to keeping you posted and you may all follow us on facebook at FiLoLi Farms and on (soon to be revealed thanks to

  • Shows the power of social networking in general and Tea Trade Forum in particular.  From Jackie’s first post revealing FiLoLi Farm’s proposed tea venture to finding and signing up Teacraft as technical consultant took just 15 days. 10/10 to for an excellent site and 10/10 to Jason for swift decisive action.

    Nigel at Teacraft

  • Profile photo of bram bram

    *Congratulations to all.

  • Profile photo of Xavier Xavier

    I will follow you (even if I am a bit away) and hats off to the power of social networking.

  • We begin some bulldozing this week to prepare the site for proper irrigation needs… We are hoping to get alot of these things out of the way early so that we are adequately prepared for the arrival of the 60,000 plants… As many horticulturalists know, it takes usually 6 months for soil adjustments to really begin to show their efficiency… Although it seems that we are years away from planting (September 2014), we need to begin work now as the official clock to planting is less than 22 months away… exciting work… 

  • Profile photo of Jackie Jackie

    Thanks everyone for a truly fascinating discussion which I know many people have been following with great interest. Very glad we brought FiLoLi Farms and Nigel of @teacraft together. We’ve had huge respect for Nigel for a long time and we are much enjoying your exchanges. FiLoLi Farms we’re very excited about your new endeavor. Anyway, I have a few questions for you Jason:

    @filoli-farms You mentioned I am a timber farmer and tea is as foreign to me.. Do you drink tea yourself? Or you think you might do when you start producing?

    You discussed the harvester that will cut the bushes also from the side. “ us the ability to cut from the sides as well as the top (which is a drawback to the Lipton harvester which can only cut from the top.”) I only just noticed this when I re-read your comments. Usually only top leaves are harvested, so it’s interesting you’d be including those side leaves. I’ve often wondered why those are generally not plucked. That is to say, I imagine they are not as tender but to what extent does this affect taste and how noticeable it is to the end consumer? I imagine it makes economical sense but I’m almost surprised it doesn’t seem to be more common practice. 

    Anyway, very happy to hear we’ll be getting more local tea growers. How many people do you think will be helping to plant 60,000 tea plants? How long does it take to get them into the ground? Is that part all mechanized too?

    @teacraft – You mentioned Fairhope Tea Plantation in Alabama with 40,000 plants. I’d never heard of them, so I’m just looking into them now. I wonder who they sell to? I’ve only just started my search into them, so I haven’t seen anything yet. 40,000 plants, 60,000 plants how much is that? How much does it yield? How much does that take up in acreage? Ah, looks like 10 acres in Jason’s case. I’m thinking out loud here but it’s only because I’m not sure how to read these numbers yet. 

  • Jackie, your comment raises several very good points – as an
    excellent comment should.  However in
    this particular thread I cannot necessarily answer as freely as in some
    others.  My position as a consultant is foremost
    to serve my clients and this generally requires me to adopt a confidential and guarded
    persona to maintain and protect their proprietary information.  In direct opposition to this is my personal inclination
    as a researcher and teacher to share information freely and widely, and to encourage
    others to build upon it.  Therefore I often
    have to tread a fine line.

    I would be happy to discuss the merits and drawbacks of side
    harvesting versus flat-top harvesting and how a given number of plants can be
    considered a large planting on the one hand and a small one on another – but not
    on this thread which is effectively linked in name to one of my clients. 

    Maybe – if there is sufficient interest in understanding the
    mechanics of tea growing in a general sense we could have a “technology corner”
    on ?

    Nigel at Teacraft

  • Profile photo of bram bram

    * Seems nice. What about a blog (as place for a “course” for the general public) on this subject?

  • Profile photo of Jackie Jackie

    I’m definitely interested in having a technology corner on Tea Trade @teacraft. It would be fascinating. I understand your reservations here on this thread but yes, we should have a a place to discuss such topics because they are intriguing. I’ll run it by @peter

  • Profile photo of Peter Peter

    @teacraft – I’m on it, but I’m thinking that it means creating a whole new website devoted to the topic (technical aspects of the tea industry). I’ve got something useful in mind, but it will be a few days before it is ready.

    Meanwhile, this thread can go back to its original topic @filoli-farms excellent project!

  • *As to the mechanization, I am hoping to implement a solar powered version of am already used tea cutter in Japan. I am going to bounce that off of Nigel soon and Bill Hall. The technology exists separately, but again, one must think out of the box and try something new… Solar energy (which goes hand in hand with a tea field given it needs ample sunlight) will also aid in reducing costs… I am proposing putting green tea harvesters on a rail system to cut to 1 mm +/- to reduce loss of tea and have a series of these that can be moved from field to field. The large diesel powered top straight line cutter is a thing of the past… It is effective, don’t get me wrong, but we have to be forward thinking in an economy where fossil fuels are becoming war-kindling commodities…

    We are also researching some mechanized planters in many industries and have personally sent my pine forester to Myanmar and the Far East to make contacts and to try to “comb the globe” for mechanized practices for planting… This is TRULY the new frontier… Nigel has attempted and is studying a few ways to mechanize the planting and I hope he and I can find a useful planter already in existence or to create one… the sky is the limit here… this is what it is all about.. I want to know what to do… how to do it… how to do it better… Knowledge is power and knowledge should be free… I am also looking with Nigel to bring together a consortium of growers, if you will, to demystify the tea process… to make it available to the masses… however, as Nigel and myself know… as of late, you either buy information or you research it yourself… which of course is not free… So through social media and through a technical corner, I believe this type of info can be shared like in a local cooperative of growers and we can encourage more people to grow tea, however, as it stands, the secrets are well guarded because the information is worth a mint… 

  • *Also, to clear some client/consultant issues. As you see, I shared in a general non-disclosing way in my example of the rows. I welcome you (OFFICIALLY) to respond in any way that you see fit because the people here can bring up questions that maybe you or I cannot. I am a firm believer in knowledge is power and thinking outside of the box. As Jackie points out, I am no seasoned grower of tea– and honestly, I thought tea surely was growing somewhere in the cornbelt of the USA before I visited Charleston. Sometimes we never think of where our commodity products are coming from and sometimes as Americans, I believe, assume it grows in the USA. maybe that is our pompous attitude… or just plain ignorance… So I welcome you to post freely with any questions asked in this post. Well, with one caveat, if I ask, charge me… if they ask, don’t charge me… also, please keep the answers in a general vaguer manner… do not say, in Brookhaven, MS we are growing in this particular fashion, but instead, say… in some of my projects we find that if we grow in fashion “a” to fashion “b” we get “x” result… If this is agreeable to you, it is agreeable to me… Great talking with you today… I feel these irrigation guys can help us tremendously… I am VERY EXCITED about this entire project and glad and greatful you are involved… 


  • *Also, Jackie and Peter,  I would like to extend an invitation to any tea grower in the mainland USA to join in on this forum… my grandfather always says, “two head are better than one especially if one is a doneky’s ass…” (mine being the donkey’s ass)

  • Profile photo of Jackie Jackie

    Some really great input and food aka tea for thought here @filoli-farms – Will go through the finer points shortly. Just a quick mention: following the discussion with @teacraft about finding a place to discuss technology/industry related questions, we’ve now put up the site Integrated into the Tea Trade Network it focusses on questions and answers related to the tea industry. For example we asked the above mentioned question how many tea plants can grow on an acre there and added “What are the pros and cons of flat top and side harvesting?” These topics are just the first seeds of what will hopefully turn into a full harvest. 

    All questions and answers appear here in Tea Trade’s activity stream, the same as any post or reply on the forum or in blogs. We think the site offers the perfect place to address tea industry concerns in particular. It will also be ideal ground to expand our topic of growing tea in Mississippi which has developed into a truly fascinating disucssion.

    As a re-cap for all this here is the related update that @peter made a few days ago announcing our  plans. 

  • Our new website is up and running… Nigel @teacraft has made a trip to the humid Southern US and stayed a week consulting with us. Also, please follow us on facebook at to see our plants in the green house and follow them from cuttings to tea producing plants… Everything is moving quickly… I am happy to have found Nigel here and to be working toward commercial  US tea production very soon…

  • Profile photo of Xavier Xavier

    It is great to see things moving ahead. :D

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