Let the Burley Council work for you

by: Darrell Varner, President Council for Burley Tobacco

Too often I hear burley tobacco farmers talk about how there is nothing we as growers can do to change what is happening in the burley industry. We have to accept the prices; we can’t stop the insurance abuse; we can’t have any input on the regulations; there are too few of us today to make a difference. As an individual grower it may feel that way at times, but as an organization, the Council for Burley Tobacco acts as the voice of all burley growers to make these concerns heard. 

In March, Altria representatives attended the Council’s spring meeting to discuss the upcoming season and offered to work with the Council to help identify ways to open the lines of communication with their contract growers on industry issues. 

In April, the Council and Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina were invited to the Tobacco Merchants Association annual meeting to be on a panel with representatives from all aspects of the industry for a dialogue on nicotine from the field to the final product.  This meeting not only gave grower representatives a chance to highlight the challenges we face on the farm, but also a chance to meet with representatives from a wide range of the industry.

In May, Council board members attended both the Altria and Philip Morris International shareholder meetings.  At these meetings we had the opportunity to speak to these company boards on the issues facing growers and the desire to be partner as this industry continues to change instead of just a price taker.

In July, the Council welcomed representatives from Philip Morris International, FDA Center for Tobacco Products, and the Tobacco Growers of North Carolina to the summer board meeting. We engaged in discussions on how the implementation of the FDA proposed nicotine rules, the proposed GAP certification program would impact growers, and as always, the future of the industry for our growers.

The opportunities the Council has had to get in front of industry leaders these past few months have given us a platform show the companies, FDA, and other tobacco grower organizations that we are willing to work together with them to ensure there is a future for U.S. burley growers in this changing industry.  U.S. burley growers are not only ready to meet the demand the companies have for burley, but to also fit into the social and environmental expectations set by the consumers, shareholders, and the government. 

The Council for Burley Tobacco has come a long way these past few years as we have worked to develop our role as the burley tobacco grower organization. We have focused on opening the lines of communications with burley growers, invested in burley research, and worked to build relationships with the companies and other grower organizations.  This month we are taking the next step in growing our role as the voice of the burley grower at our long-term planning session on September 28.

Are you concerned about upcoming GAP certification? Do you struggle with the H2A requirements or finding workers? Do you question if you will have a market for your crop in the year ahead?  If you said yes to any of these questions, then I encourage each of you to take time to share with us your thoughts on the issues and what you want to see the Council for Burley Tobacco do for you as a grower. I would also encourage you to take a few minutes and help us learn more about you by visiting the Council for Burley Tobacco website at www.councilforburleytobacco.com and taking our short grower survey.

Published in Farmers Pride August 2018