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Another Challenging Year

by: Darrell Varner, President Council for Burley Tobacco

As we come to the end of the 2018 crop year, I can say without hesitation that I am happy to see this challenging year behind me.  The weather has been unforgiving for all crops this year. Additionally, industry and market challenges seem to continue for our burley crop.


I know I’m not the only one out there that has questioned on these rainy days if I should continue as a burley farmer. The reality is that being a burley farmer is not the secure income source that it once was for previous generations.  The buyout, international production, consumer trends, and the consolidation of companies have changed the world of the tobacco farmer.  All these reasons are why The Council for Burley Tobacco has been working the past few years to be the voice for the farmer in this changing world of the burley industry.


At our September board meeting Dr. Steve Isaacs and Dr. Will Snell led our board in a discussion on the future of our organization. We listed the priorities and action steps for the organization with the ultimate goal of The Council for Burley Tobacco to be an advocate for the burley growers at all levels.


This fall we have continued our dialogues with the companies, hosting Altria representatives in Woodford County to give growers a chance to ask questions direct to company representatives. This meeting was hopefully just the beginning of the one on one discussion meetings with company representatives. 


Al Pedigo represents The Council for Burley Tobacco on the GAP Connections Board and attends meetings throughout the year to provide burley grower input on the development of the GAP program.  He notes that the past season of GAP Certification was a success with more than 151 burley producers certified. While the program is still voluntary, he recommends that growers with Altria and RJR contracts consider the 2019 signup, as those companies are moving to require certification in the future. Pedigo believes that GAP certified U.S. burley can become a premium product for companies and a way to create market demand for growers as the industry continues to change. The Council for Burley Tobacco will continue to work with GAP Connections in the year ahead promoting updates, trainings, safety programs, and other grower opportunities on our Facebook page and website.


Hampton “Hoppy” Henton attended the Forum for Civil Dialogue on Tobacco, Nicotine and Alternative Products Harm Reduction this fall on behalf of The Council for Burley Tobacco. Henton was the only grower attending the conference with health care, research, vapor, heat not burn, and tobacco company representatives.  Henton sees the connections made at this meeting as an opportunity for the growers to begin a conversation on the role of the grower in the new the Alternative Nicotine Delivery Systems (ANDS) market. Instead of sitting back and watching the discount cigarette and ANDS market grow with product from oversees, this is the opportune time for growers take to the table a proposal for GAP U.S. Certified burley that provides a traceable product for the U.S. ANDS market and the cigarette market.   The Council for Burley Tobacco plans to continue the dialogue on this issue in the year ahead and hopes to bring leaders in the health industry to Kentucky.


The Council for Burley Tobacco annual meeting will take place in early 2019 and we hope to bring congressional leaders to speak on key political issues impacting our growers, such as H2A regulations, crop insurance, regulations of the ANDS products, and how trade regulations are impacting the market. 


As challenging as the last year was and as bleak as the future looks at times, I want growers to know you are not alone.  While The Council for Burley Tobacco cannot take the burley industry back to what it was for previous generations, we are working hard to give our growers a voice with the companies, legislators, and agricultural leaders for the future.


This winter I encourage each of you to take a few minutes and visit to learn more about the Council, sign up for our upcoming annual meeting, share with us your concerns, and become an active member.

Published: December 2018 in Farmers Pride

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