In 2019 Marv Wodtli transitioned his 10-acre farm away from hay, a crop he'd grown on the family plot of land since he was a child. Wodtli owned a floor covering store, Floor Decor, for over 30 years as his main job but still farmed on the side.
He started growing lavender after researching crops that can grow well in dry climates and be profitable on small plots of land.
"There's no way you could make a living off of hay. I think my best hay year might have made $12,000. In today's economy I don't see $12,000 paying the bills," Wodtli said.
Arnold Irrigation, one of the more junior water right holders in the Deschutes Basin, supplies water to the farm, and the recent short irrigation seasons didn't lend itself to raising hay.
"With water issues and how we keep on getting less and less, I started looking at different types of crops that didn't use as much water. I use about 90% less water growing lavender with my drip system than I would growing hay," Wodtli said. "We had to find something that would grow well in our climate. We've got to have right type of soil. It's very water conservative. And another big thing is, deer don't like it. So it hit a lot of the key things for our climate to grow."
The water drip system had to be completely retooled to farm lavender. Rather than a sprinkler system that coats the entire ground with water, Wodtli's farm is on a drip system that waters each individual plant with filtered water. The system's proved to be more efficient with the water Wodtli's allocated.
"We get shut off water last year on the first of July. So, I have created a storage pond that when full I can keep our plants alive and growing for three months before we run out of water," he said.
“With water issues and how we keep on getting less and less, I started looking at different types of crops that didn't use as much water. I use about 90% Less water growing lavender with my drip system than I would growing hay.”—Marv Wodtlitweet this
There's been a learning curve since 2019. Wodtli said one would be surprised how many weeds can grow in the 4-inch hole, and hand-weeding everything can be a time-consuming challenge. It's something he's gotten more adept at handling each season. One thing that's still causing trouble is gophers, which burrow under the plant to get water from the drip lines.
Wodtli and his wife April originally farmed lavender as a commodity to be sold in bulk to processors, but once bulk prices dropped from about $2,000 a gallon of oil to $1,000, he moved toward direct sale of essential oils, a product used for massage, aromatherapy and skin care. The company is named 2nd Life Lavender, alluding to Wodtli's second go in an industry after getting out of flooring. Since February 2021 they've been offering direct sales to customers.
"I ended up pivoting because, with the bulk prices dropping so much, we want to make a living at it," he said. "What we'd really like to do is get more massage therapists, aromatherapists—get these people using it, and selling it. Because one, it'll be cheaper for them. And two, we're selling our product to people that will appreciate the purity of it."
The purity, he says, is in that the processing doesn't cut the product with other ingredients, that it's processed with purified water the same day its harvested and that the lavender never touches the ground. The operation's been growing in scale each year.
"The first year we got 19 gallons, last year we got 45 gallons and this year we should be hitting 60 to 70 gallons," Wodtli said. "Once they get fully mature, we should be at about 100 gallons."