(Place your cursor over any red word to see its definition.)

The word "jojoba" (pronounced ho-HO-ba) refers both to the desert plant and to the extract obtained from its seed. Despite being commonly referred to as "jojoba oil", jojoba is NOT an oil, as it does not contain triglycerides.

Nature of the Plant

Mature jojoba plants (Simmondsia chinensis) are woody perennial bushes native to the Sonoran (or Gila) Desert of Arizona, Northern Mexico and arid California. Jojoba does not shed its leaves with the change in seasons.

Flowers on a male Jojoba plant
       Flowers on a male Jojoba plant

The jojoba plant is dioecious. The gender of jojoba plants can only be discerned from their flowers. When planted from seeds, jojoba plants can take up to three years to produce flowers.

The female plants produce seed from flowers pollinated by the male plants. Jojoba leaves have an aerodynamic shape, creating a spiral effect, which brings wind-born pollen from the male flower to the female flower. On North American farms and in Israel, pollination usually occurs during the months of February and March. In Argentina, Peru, and Australia, pollination occurs during August and September.

Flower on a female plant
Seed capsule on a female plant
    Flower on a female plant
    Seed capsule on a female plant

The pollinated female flower becomes a hardened capsule, which contains one or more developing seeds. As the growing seed fills the capsule, the capsule wall becomes progressively thinner until dried by the sun. The sun-dried capsule ultimately splits open, and the mature seed drops to the ground.





Jojoba Seed and its Extract

The color and shape of jojoba seeds are reminiscent of coffee beans, however close examination reveals significant differences. Jojoba seeds are far larger, and their sizes and shapes are not uniform.

Jojoba seeds are larger than coffee beans
               Coffee beans (L) and Jojoba Seed (R)
Differences are more than skin deep, however. Of more than 350,000 identified plant species, jojoba is the only one which produces significant quantities of liquid wax esters akin to the natural restorative esters produced by human sebaceous glands. For you chemists out there, the esters, of high molecular weight, are composed almost entirely of straight-chain acids and alcohols. The acids are a mixture of eicosanoic and docosanoic, with small quantities of palmitoleic and oleic. The alcohols consist of eicosanol and docosanol, with smaller quantities of hexacosanol and alcohols of lower molecular weight.

Jojoba seeds contain alpha, delta, and gamma tocopherols, all forms of vitamin E. The extractable liquid content of our matured jojoba seeds ranges from 50% to 54%. (For more technical information about jojoba, please consult our Bibliography.)

It was the Native Americans who discovered the importance and versatility of jojoba. During the early Eighteenth Century Jesuit missionaries in Baja observed them heating jojoba seeds to soften them. They then used pestle and mortar to create a salve or buttery substance. The latter was applied to the skin and hair to heal and condition. Native Americans also used the salve to soften and preserve animal hides. Pregnant women ate jojoba seeds, believing they assisted during childbirth. Hunters and raiders munched jojoba on the trail to keep hunger at bay.

Ingestion of jojoba seeds is attracting more attention, today. From experience, Native Americans knew that jojoba seeds suppressed hunger. They simply didn't know why. Modern research has revealed that Jojoba seeds contain simmondsins, monoglucosides, not found in any other plant species. They act as an appetite suppressant. A number of companies are currently working on ways of isolating the simmondsins for use as a dietary supplement.

Jojoba Farming in the United States Jojoba is a relatively new crop, especially when compared to corn, wheat and other staple grains, which have been under human cultivation for thousands of years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture investigated the commercial farming potential of jojoba during the 1930s. There were at that time proposals for Native American tribes of the southwest to cultivate it to establish a viable economic base.

Serious commercial production of jojoba really began during the last three decades of the Twentieth Century, after international treaties outlawed the hunting of sperm whales, which had provided natural oils to the personal care industry for decades. Entrepreneurs in California and Arizona planted more than 45,000 acres in jojoba, the majority of them with seed harvested from jojoba plants growing in the wild.

This occurred while promoters were hailing jojoba as the new miracle crop. The incautious temperament of the times fueled unbridled speculation and outlandish claims-none of which was supported. For example, jojoba was touted both as a cure for cancer and an antidote for baldness!

A Klondike-like frenzy characterized the early years of jojoba investments in the United States. Unit prices for a pound of jojoba seeds were highly volatile, ranging from less than a $1.00 a pound one season to more than $4.00 per pound the following season. While farms were being established, people would venture into the desert to pick seeds from wild plants, a practice which still occurs and is discouraged. Desert harvesters have been generally reckless and unmindful of the fragile desert ecology. The seed they pick is likely to be immature, because fully matured seeds actually fall to the ground where, in the wild, it is almost impossible to find and pick them up.

There are harrowing stories of men who crossed the border into Mexico to purchase seed and then transport it across the border into the United States. There are stories of hand-harvesters who were cheated out of a fair return for their seed and/or their labor by underhanded seed purchasers. There are stories of so-called "industry leaders" who felt cheated by one another. Law suits pitting grower against grower or investment group against investment group were not uncommon in the jojoba industry.

On a more positive vein, universities in California and Arizona and members of private industry conducted serious research on jojoba. Some of the knowledge obtained was shared at international jojoba conferences and symposia. Much, however, was parlayed into the creation of new patents for jojoba derivatives. Actual jojoba growers, who represented, by far, the bulk of investments in jojoba and who took the biggest risks, conducted little, if any, such research.

Farm ownership structures, plant quality, farming and harvesting methods, and management techniques varied widely in the United States. Standards, initially non-existent, were slow to develop in an industry characterized by jealousy, mistrust, and intense competition.

The only people who consistently made money during those formative years of the jojoba industry were the investment bankers selling limited partnerships in jojoba acreage. When the U.S. Congress took away the tax advantages of putting money into real-estate investment trusts during the late Eighties, the bloom on jojoba investments was off. Capital dried up, and publicly funded research efforts came to a screeching halt. Progress developing more efficient farming methods was left to growers who had staked out important positions in the industry.

During the Nineteen Eighties some growers and university researchers found in the wild and in fields planted from seed, some of them in botanical gardens, a number of promising varieties of jojoba, which served as mother plants for rooted cuttings.

The advantages of rooted cuttings were numerous. The gender of the cutting was known (female), and the production potential of the cutting had been identified. Moreover, the ratio of female to male plants (normally 50:50 in seeded fields), could be significantly improved, obviating the expense of removing or "roguing", male plants. The use of cuttings also improved the growth rate of the female plants, which no longer needed to compete with faster growing male plants for nutrients and water.

Many of the early farms failed. Poor management; unfortunate plant selection; severe imbalances between supply and demand, which produced wild fluctuations in prices; poorly chosen growing areas; and lack of sufficient capital accounted for most of the failures. By the beginning of 1990, more than 40,000 acres of jojoba (88% of the total) had been abandoned in the United States. By the end of 2004, total acreage cultivated in the United States had declined to less than 3,000.

A major drawback to growing jojoba in the Sonoran Desert is climate. Jojoba flowers are highly susceptible to frost. And, jojoba plants under cultivation become stressed in extremes of heat.

When temperatures drop to 17 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit, extensive crop damage occurs. Methods for increasing in-field winter temperatures included lighting fires in strategic locations, use of windmills to move the air, and irrigating. Such methods proved either too expensive or just plain futile. None of them achieved universal acceptance. However, one practice did gain currency: to place plants into dormancy prior to the on-set of winter. The tactic achieved some measure of success; losses due to frost damage were minimized--as long as irrigation pumps were not turned on too soon in the Spring. The downside? Depriving plants of water for 5 to 6 months reduced both yields and the potential size of the jojoba seeds.

>While winters in the North American desert are troublesome, summers are just plain brutal. Summer temperatures in southwest Arizona, where almost all jojoba is now commercially farmed in the United States, will, at times, exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Commercially grown jojoba can survive the high temperatures, however the oppressive heat stresses jojoba plants, causing bud abortion and/or fruit abortion, impacting negatively on yields.

Jojoba Farming Outside the United States

The great misconception about jojoba has been that it doesn't require a lot of water. This is only true if one is not striving for consistent production. People living in areas with scarce water resources are often chagrinned to learn that growing jojoba commercially requires a consistent and plentiful supply of water, which must be used judiciously.

Jojoba is now grown commercially in Argentina, Israel, Peru and Australia, countries where sufficient water and suitable climate and soil conditions have been located.

Jojoba acreage planted in Israel and Argentina, primarily from rooted cuttings, began commercial production in the early Nineties. Jojoba grown in Peru began coming to markets in 2003.

In Peru, farmers grow jojoba, literally, in the sand (silica). Without consistent and constant application of water and fertilizer, the plants, according to one grower, would die within weeks.

Foreign jojoba producers learned from the mistakes and disadvantages of their American competitors. Some were able to locate regions, which did not have the extremes of temperature found in Arizona and Southern California. Foreign growers put far more effort into identifying precocious plants, which produced more seed earlier in their development. The roles played by the respective governments of Israel and Argentina was also encouraging of jojoba agriculture. Tax incentives, donations from interested expatriate communities, and associations with other in-country agricultural groups with access to capital were just a few of the resources available to growers in the other countries that farmers in the United States did not have.

It is accurate to point out, however, that all jojoba grown in the world today is traceable to jojoba seeds and/or jojoba cuttings originating in North America.

Jojoba farming remains a work-in-progress. Major challenges remain.

Lessons Learned: A Case History

The Jojoba Company's own farm, which the company sold during October 2004, is an illustrative example of things done right; of certain things that should have been done and were not; and of things that were simply done wrong. (To view The Jojoba Company's former farm, click here.)

The Jojoba Company's Arizona affiliate, A.I.N.V. (Arizona), Inc, owned the farm, which previous owners had already established. Of its total 940 acres, 620 acres were planted from seed. The remaining 320 acres were planted with rooted cuttings from a common "parent". The rows of plants in the cutting fields were entirely uniform: every sixth row contained male plants. The cuttings acreage was comprised of approximately 16% male and 84% female plants.

The location the former owners had chosen for the farm was optimal. Arizona's Hyder Valley has good soil, excellent water, and microclimates, which could be relatively favorable for jojoba farming. The former owners had leveled the fields with lasers, ensuring a good infrastructure for furrow or drip irrigation.

Offsetting these positives were cold winters, which could produce flower-killing frosts, and brutally hot summers, which stressed all vegetation.

In hindsight, many of the original owners' decisions concerning the structure of the farm were questionable.

Rows of plants were placed 15 feet apart, and plants within the rows were spaced every two to three feet. Within just a few years, plants were crowding one another and competing for water and minerals. The more rapidly growing male plants were impeding the growth and production of the female plants.

Ideally, rows should have been placed at least 20 feet apart, and the spacing between the plants should have been set at a minimum of 10 feet. The more generous spacing would have minimized crowding and given the female plants more room to grow and produce seed.

Had they known more at the time, the original investors might not have planted their 620 acres with jojoba seeds. They would probably have waited to spend their valuable cash resources on promising cuttings. The plethora of male plants in the seeded fields required additional capital investments in "rouging" (removing male plants), which could have been better spent on other priorities. Minimizing the number of male plants by planting cuttings would also have ensured more female plants were available to produce seed. We now recommend fields be planted with 90% to 96% female plants, the remaining 4% to 10% of male plants being dispersed among the female plants in a manner which assures the accurate dispersal of wind-born pollen.

The original owners' decision to furrow irrigate was flawed. Furrow irrigation during Arizona's hot summer loses tremendous amounts of water to evaporation. Labor is required to change siphon sets every 12 to 24 hours, and the water at the ends of rows requires special handling to avoid waste. Furrow irrigating is also more generalized to specific areas as opposed to specific plants, an additional waste of water.

Drip irrigation systems do require more up-front capital to install. However, they reduce operating costs, permit pinpoint accuracy in water application, and substantially reduce losses both to evaporation and to the end-of-row tailings problem encountered with furrow irrigation. Applying fertilizers with drip systems is also more efficient, as the material can be introduced through the pipes directly to the plants.

All of these advantages key into the high cost of providing the water, itself, which demands substantial amounts of energy. A more efficient water application system carries directly to the bottom line. The pumping system our farm employed illustrates the point.

The farm's source of water was four wells, each of which exceeded 800 feet in depth and tapped into an underground aquifer, which provided warm, clear water rich in minerals. Getting that water out of the ground required, initially, turbo-powered natural gas engines, and subsequently, when natural gas prices skyrocketed, electric motors, each in excess of 425HP. The motors turned stages of "bowls" set well below static water levels (325 feet), which pushed the water out of the wells and into the irrigation ditches, where siphons transported the water to individual rows of plants.

A more efficient delivery system would have required less pump operating time, resulting in less power being consumed running the irrigation motors. Alternatively, the power used to obtain the water would have achieved more bang for the buck by increasing the amount of water made available to each plant.

Finally, a word about planting cycles. It is our view that on farms of any size, incremental plantings should occur each year on about a tenth of the farm's acreage. After ten years, the cycle would begin anew, i.e. the plants on the tenth of the farm first planted would be ripped out and replaced, hopefully with a more prolific, better adapted specimen than was planted the first time. In addition to ensuring a continuing cycle of new plantings each year, the incremental method also preserves infra-structure capital and helps ensure, by the fifth year, that funds generated from operations will be available for investment in the farm.

After farming for ten years, and learning so much about the industry and the short-comings of our own farm, the painful decision to stop farming was made less painful. The fact that our farm was experiencing decreasing productivity was the proverbial "nail in the coffin". Farms outside the U.S. were producing in excess of 2,000 pounds of seed per acre. Our farm, in a good year, might produce less than half that amount.

When we reached the decision to sell our farm, we were very concerned about the well being of its wildlife. Deer entered our fields to feed; coyotes drank water from our irrigation furrows and hunted burrowing rabbits and packrats; and mourning doves and coveys of quail sought shelter from the hot summer sun among our plants. We were pleased, when we sold our farm that it was taken over by a grower of dates, who will continue to ensure the continuity of animal life in the area.

During April of 2005, when were we about to exhaust our inventory of jojoba pressed from seeds we had grown on our farm, we sent each of our customers a letter to announce the sale of our farm and to explain our future procurement policies.

Organic Farming

For as long as we owned our jojoba operation, we farmed as close to organic as we could. The objective was to strive for a natural balance between predator and beneficial insect populations. Jojoba is vulnerable to thrips, loopers, spider mites, bore worms, and grasshoppers. Imbalances did occur from time to time in certain parts of the farm. If an imbalance occurred, we sprayed Capture, a pesticide approved by the United States Agriculture Department for food up to two weeks prior to harvesting the food. The active ingredient is bifenthrin, a pyrethroid pesticide. FMC Corporation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania manufactures Capture.

Since 1997, we had used no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers on our plants. We had used organic methods to process our jojoba seed. However, we did not approach third parties to certify our product as "organic". This was a conscious decision on our part. Located, literally, in the middle of the desert, our farm was highly vulnerable to any infestation. Moreover, there were neighboring farms, which did apply pesticides to their fields. Organic Certification one year, with all the expense entailed in labeling our products "organic", would have been funds poorly spent if, the following year, we had been forced to adopt non-organic farming measures. And, we wouldn't have been able to revert to "organic" the subsequent year because to establish organic credentials there's a three-year transition period. In our view, it was better to tell our customers exactly what we were doing from one year to the next, permitting them to make their own decisions with the best information available. In addition, we did conduct pesticide screens on every lot of jojoba we produced from our farm. The screens were consistently negative, permitting us to confirm on our label that our product was pesticide-free.

In 2002, the US Department of Agriculture established guidelines for organic standards. The USDA has a very useful web site, which describes the department's guidelines:

                  http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/FactSheets/LabelingE.html


We believe the USDA's efforts in this regard are highly useful. However, we do take very strong exception to permissions granted concerning use of the "USDA Organic" seal, and we quote from the USDA's own web page:

While all organic food producers must be certified by the USDA, use of the "USDA Organic" seal on products made with at least 95% organic ingredients is voluntary.

From our point of view, it's absolutely absurd to call something "organic" that is made of 95% organic materials. A product is either "organic" or it is not. A complete discussion of our organic jojoba is available by clicking here.