ORGANIC TOBACCO GROWING IN AMERICA AND OTHER EARTH-FRIENDLY FARMING
In the Beginning
Long before the advent of petrochemicals, pesticides and “modern” farming in the middle of the twentieth century, all tobacco was grown the natural traditional way organically.
First American Indians, then later European settlers, grew tobacco. Natural insect and pest controls were used, and newcomers to the New World learned from Indians how natural fertilizers and crop rotation would sustain the land. Tobacco was America’s first cash crop—and it was grown naturally. It sustained the early settlers, the fledgling colonies and a young nation, including our first president and pioneering farmer, George Washington.
Today, near the end of the 21st Century’s first decade, societies around the globe are demonstrating greater understanding of the importance of sustainability. And consumers are increasingly demanding that the people who produce the products they purchase and use rely on earth-friendly, traditional and innovative practices.
It wasn’t always so.
By 1989, some two decades ago, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company had gained a small cadre of loyal customers. Founded seven years earlier (1982) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the principle that tobacco should be enjoyed the way American Indians intended it, we produced 100 percent additive-free tobacco, natural and with no flavorings or artificial ingredients. As the company grew, we were constantly looking for ways to honor and respect the land from which our products come and the people who help produce them. The search and work toward organic was a natural progression.
The birth of the organic tobacco market is a colorful story. (We try to do justice to that story later in these pages.) Essentially, we worked with an eclectic group of people who shared a common desire, including a pioneering (and a bit eccentric) local grower deep in the heart of tobacco country in North Carolina, a key agricultural scientist from North Carolina State University and an American Indian grower. All were intent in growing tobacco the natural—organic—traditional way.
Along the tobacco road to organic farming came a first step that turned into a successful earth-friendly program. We pioneered the first reduced usage of pesticides program—later to be called purity residue clean, or PRC for short—in the industry.
In the years that followed, plenty of work—much of it through trial and error—went into putting the organic program together. After a number of fits and starts, two growers, who already had some of their farmland that had lay fallow for three years, began growing tobacco a different way.
Within a few years of setting out, the first small amount of organic tobacco made its way to market. The year was 1991.
Today, more than 100 farmers provide us with organic leaf. That’s some 40 growers in the United States, another 40 in Brazil and some 20 or so in Canada. We are also considering working with growers in Argentina and Turkey. In size, the farms run the gamut—from large to small in acreage. These growers represent almost the entire world production of organic tobacco. While these numbers may seem small to many, especially to the big tobacco companies, demand is growing significantly. Organic tobacco production has doubled in each of the last few years.
For their commitment and hard work, organic growers are receiving up to two-and-a-half-times the money per pound for organic tobacco versus conventional tobacco.
Our growers are heartened by this new and profitable market. Many are expanding into other organic products. They are worrying a lot less about petrochemicals—the cost and the risk of mishandling of them. And many tell us they are seeing a return of long-missed wildlife and nature to their land—family farm land that they may well be able to hand down to their children and grandchildren.