The Writing on the Wall

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It is time to face the writing on the wall; the demand for burley tobacco is in terminal decline worldwide.

The burley industry has seen years of underproduction following the Buyout, due to the great exodus of growers. All that is changing and we are reaching a level of oversupply that cannot be corrected. In fact, for the first time since the buyout the supply and demand for burley tobacco have crossed negatively when graphed.

What does all this mean to you as a burley tobacco farmer?

It means that there is no longer a guaranteed market for non-contracted tobacco. It means that you need to identify your market before planting the crop this season. It means that as growers we all need to work together to look at the future of our industry, to stop the overproduction of burley tobacco, and identify where we can capture a secure market for our product.

The terminal decline of the tobacco industry has been a subject for discussion at meetings around the world this past year. While we are unable to reverse the decline, as growers we can begin looking at ways to work with the government, health groups, and tobacco companies to identify market opportunities.

One of the first steps we as growers can take to curb the overproduction is to work with the government to change regulations that would not allow for insurance coverage on non-contract tobacco. This would help to address concerns of insurance fraud in the industry, as well as provide an incentive to farmers to identify secure markets before planting.

As growers, we should also look at ways to differentiate our product to the consumer. One approach would be to work with health groups to encourage companies to provide source verification on each pack of cigarettes. Much like the Budweiser “Track Your Bud” campaign that allows a consumer to scan a code on a bottle and trace the selection of ingredients and which brewmaster tested the batch, why can’t companies place a code on a pack of cigarettes? Give consumers a chance to identify where the tobacco they are smoking was grown and verify that it was GAP certified meeting all child-labor laws and pesticide guidelines.

We can no longer take the position,” if I grow it there will be a market.” We have to recognize that the market is changing. The demand for burley is not going to come around as it has in the past, and we must change our production practices. We have to step outside of our comfort zone and work with policy leaders, health advocates, and industry leaders to identify what the future will be for the burley tobacco farmer.

I hope you will take time to voice your concerns and ideas to me and the other Council for Burley Tobacco board members. Visit our website at www.councilforburleytobacco.com and become a member to be a part of the conversation.


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