Ginseng grower says festival postponement highlights difficulty with trade, Coronavirus

Published: Mar. 9, 2020 at 10:15 AM CDT
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The International Ginseng Festival is postponed until 2022. A big reason why is the Coronavirus.

“It’s basically best for the public and best right now, with the travel restrictions, trying to get people to sign up, especially from China. It makes it very difficult to have a successful event,” said Richard Barrett, executive director of the Wausau Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But there's another factor at play.

The senior operations director at Hsu's Ginseng Enterprises, Mike Klemp-North, says they were already looking at alternative products to sustain their business amid trade tariffs when the Coronavirus came along, since most ginseng in Marathon County is exported to China. While all ginseng farmers are taking a hit, t's the smaller ones he's worried about.

"What about the farmers who said, I have two acres in my backyard and I want to do this and invest and put equity into it. What about them? They are the voices that aren't going to be heard in this," Klemp-North said.

Following Monday’s announcement, Klemp-North says Covid-19 is another barrier in a laundry list of trade issues over the past few years. But he's more concerned about the smaller operations they work with.

"It's hard to hear, and it's hard to understand as outsiders, what they're feeling," he said.

It’s hard to get the product to Asia due to ports there being closed.

"Last time I checked, we have at least two shipments sitting here in port in the United States, waiting to go overseas because there’s lack of cargo containers and lack of ships. We are so reliant on countries that are epicenters of this virus," he said.

Covid-19 means Asian tourists aren't buying the product in Chinatowns across the U.S., where a lot of the product is sold to visitors.

"We’re not seeing that business because of the result of the tourist implications of Covid-19. Now all of a sudden, we have another curveball, so now how are we going to change and address this new obstacle?" he asked.

As for the ginseng festival, which draws between 8,000 and 10,000 people to Wausau, not having it will mean a loss of about $3 million to the local economy.

Despite that, Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke is confident the event will be back and better than it was before.

“Stay positive, stay optimistic. When it comes back, it’s going to be even stronger and better than ever,” Mielke said.