Tobacco growers have lower harvest this year

By Michael-Allan Marion, Brantford Expositor

Tobacco yields are down slightly this year. (Brian Thompson/The Expositor/FILE PHOTO)

Tobacco yields are down slightly this year. (Brian Thompson/The Expositor/FILE PHOTO)

Ontario tobacco growers had to weather a difficult summer but brought in a harvest that is keeping the sector on a sustainable path.

That’s the perspective of Fred Neukamm, chairman of the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board, as licensed growers continue to haul their loads to customers.

“I have heard that yields are down a bit this year,” Neukamm said of his talks with various growers.

He attributed the decline to a season marked by drought conditions that plagued several growers in Norfolk, Brant, Oxford, Elgin and Middlesex counties.

“The drought conditions were variable and wherever there were declines it was weather-related. The quality was also a bit variable, again weather-related.”

Despite that, the tobacco belt continued to stay on a stable path, Neukamm said.

“Without sounding overly optimistic, I would say that we are on a good course. Acreage has increased a bit and tobacco is still a significant crop in this area. It’s worth close to $100 million and is a significant contributor to the local economy.”

The Ministry of Finance approved the licence applications of 192 growers to plant a total 18,715 acres with an expected harvest of 51.45 million pounds. In the end, 189 growers were insured to plant on 18,491 acres.

Exact harvest figures won’t be known until growers have delivered all their loads to licensed buyers.

Those figures represent a slight increase over last year’s experience in which 195 growers had licences to plant on 15,353 approved acres with an expected harvest of 41.34 million pounds.

Ontario also has 27 licensed non flue-cured growers this year. They were approved to grow a total 850 acres with an anticipated harvest of 2.32 million pounds.

That’s a decline from 38 growers approved to plant on 927 acres for a harvest of 2.6 million pounds in the summer of 2016.

The Canadian Tobacco Research Foundation has harvested all its variety trials for 2017. The trials are conducted in co-operation with growers on several farms. A total 42 promising flue-cured varieties have been tested on replicated trials with some varieties being grown at multiple sites.

A promising variety, 13AA27-4, was released on a small-scale basis to a dozen growers this year, the foundation says. An open house will be held later during the winter, where growers can get information on the results.

Growers are watching the trials closely, said Neukamm. The trials are designed to research tobacco plantings to enhance disease resistance.

“It’s meant to enhance environmental sustainability by reducing pesticide use,” he said.

“Our growers are trying to do what growers in other crop sectors are doing to reduce the amount of pesticide application.”

The tobacco board is also concerned about the growth in the contraband tobacco trade, which retailers – particularly the Ontario Convenience Stores Association – have been carrying on a campaign to persuade the provincial government to attack more aggressively.

“Contraband impacts our growers, but it is difficult to quantify it,” said Neukamm.

“It is replacing tobacco that should be grown legally in Ontario the way we have to. It’s not good for farmers, it’s not good for governments and it’s not good for Ontario.”