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Tobacco Buyout In Va

Funding for Workforce Financial Aid is made available to Community Colleges, the Higher Education Centers in Southern and Southwest Virginia, along with New College Institute, to serve students residing in the tobacco region, based on the following priorities in order:

Tobacco Buyout In Va

There are multiple species of tobacco, which is in the same botanical family as eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and chili peppers. Nicotinia rustica and Nicotiana tabacum were domesticated in the Andes of Peru and Ecuador, and migrated north with the help of Native American farmers. Tobacco is not native to Virginia, but it was being grown in North America by Native American farmers 4,000 years before Jamestown was settled.1

John Rolfe is credited with importing the seeds of a different species, Nicotiana tabacum, perhaps via a smuggler who obtained the seeds on a Caribbean island controlled by the Spanish. Thanks to Rolfe, Virginians grew a species of tobacco that was less harsh, with less nicotine, and competed successfully against the Nicotinia rustica imported to Spain.2

The hunger for new land was fundamental to Virginia's colonial claims to the Ohio River Valley and to Kentucky. Virginians seeking new places to grow tobacco created conflicts with Native American tribes long after Powhatan's paramount chiefdom had been subjugated and the Coastal Plain had been occupied by European trespassers. Early towns in Virginia, including Alexandria, developed at locations where tobacco inspection stations and warehouses were built.

Growing tobacco is very labor-intensive. Flowers had to be removed in order to drive nutrients into growing bigger leaves. Picking leaves at separate times as they ripened might increase the quality of the tobacco, but the labor required for that work was not available in colonial Virginia. Until the development of flue curing after the Civil War, the entire plant would be cut down and dried before leaves were packed into hogsheads.

However, by 1700 it was clear that the Virginian leaders had committed to getting their labor from Africa. In the second half of the 17th Century the Virginia gentry institutionalized and expanded slavery for one primary reason: to obtain the labor needed to farm tobacco. Without tobacco, slavery in Virginia may have died out as the practice did in the northern states - and without the economic factor of slavery, Virginia might have chosen to stay with the Union rather than join the Confederacy in the American Civil War in 1861-65.

Tobacco seeds are very, very tiny. Tobacco seedlings are grown in seedbeds of very fine soil, then transplanted to farm fields in the late spring after all danger of frost is past. Each slave or indentured servant working on a tobacco plantation in colonial days may have planted and weeded about two acres of cleared land with 9-10,000 plants a year, requiring bending over perhaps 50,000 times.

Tobacco drained the soil of key nutrients, requiring labor to clear forests so tobacco could be planted in fresh soil. "Old fields" had to remain unplanted for one-two decades before soil fertility was restored naturally (unless fertilized with animal manure). The most economical way to grow tobacco was on large farms, where most of the acreage could be left unused for 20 years:3

[B]ecause the main crops, tobacco for export and corn for subsistence, were very demanding of soil nutrients, they required long rotations after short use if the land was to regain its fertility without manuring. The planter could grow tobacco for three years, followed by another three of corn, which has a deeper root system than tobacco and hence draws on another layer of soil, but the land then had to lie fallow for 20 years before yields could once again be profitable.

Tobacco has been grown in nearly every Virginia county. Tobacco culture has evolved over the centuries, and has become an essential element of what makes Virginia unique. However, the tobacco-growing counties now are almost all in Southside and Southwest Virginia, and few urban Virginians have ever walked in a tobacco field, pulled suckers, topped plants, or even seen the crop harvested.

Nationwide, the annual tobacco crop was sold for about $3 billion in 1997, but the "value added" by processing it into cigarettes and other products was substantially greater - consumers spent $60 billion on tobacco products in 1998. Peak value of the tobacco crop was $3.5 billion in 1981, the same year as peak production. In 2010, the US tobacco crop was valued at $1.25 billion. Since 1970, Virginia's tobacco crop has ranged in value from a low of $61 million in 2005 to a high of $266 million in 1981. In 2010, value was $78 million.4

Different types of tobacco are grown in different places. In the United States, tobacco is a regional crop, concentrated in the Southeastern United States. Pennsylvania farmers grow cigar filler, while Connecticut River valley farmers produce the leaves used for cigar wrappers by growing tobacco plants under white cloth to reduce the number of spots from the sun and insects. Tobacco is also grown in large quantities in Zimbabwe, China - and especially in Brazil.

Tobacco is not a homogeneous product. The flavor, mildness, texture, tar, nicotine, and sugar content vary considerably across varieties or types of tobacco. Defining characteristics of different tobacco types include the curing process (flue-, air-, sun-cured) and leaf color (light or dark), size, and thickness. A given type of tobacco has a different quality depending on where it is grown, its position on the stalk (leaves near the bottom of the stalk are lower in quality), and weather conditions during growing and curing.

Bright tobacco (also known as "flue cured" or "Virginia" tobacco) is grown in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain from Northern Florida to Maryland. Strip the paper from a cigarette today, and the different color of tobaccos inside are obvious. Typically the darker-colored tobaccos are burley and the lighter-colored tobaccos are "bright," but foreign tobaccos are also added to almost every cigarette. The use of Turkish tobacco led to one brand being named Camels. Many different brands use that same tobacco, blending it with other types in different ratios to create unique flavors.

Local regions in the Southeastern United States that grow bright tobacco are known traditionally as "belts." Tobacco used to be sold at auctions in warehouses in small southern towns. Auctions were held in sequence, moving north as the crop ripened from the "Georgia Belt" in August to the "Old Belt" in Virginia in late Fall.

Farmers would bring their crop to a warehouse, and bidders from different tobacco companies (such as Philip Morris) would walk along piles of tobacco arranged in long rows. An auctioneer would chant the bids until finally announcing the price at which each pile was sold.

The bidders walked at a steady pace, and it might take just 10-15 seconds at each pile until the auctioneer concluded his sing-song chant of the bids with "Sold American!" (if purchased by the American Tobacco Company, for example). A clerk trailing the bidders would write the price and the buying company on a ticket, which he would toss on each pile. After examining all the tickets on his piles, the tobacco farmer would discover if he had made a profit that year.

The warehouse auction process has almost disappeared now. Farmers are contracting in the Spring with a specific tobacco company to sell the crop, eliminating the competitive bidding in the Fall. Small Virginia towns that had tobacco warehouses, such as South Hill, have lost both the economic activity of the crowd that came to auctions and an activity that reflected the unique culture of the tobacco growing community.

After a farmer sold his tobacco, the leaves were shipped to processing plants, where chopping and blending created different combinations with different flavors. Major centers of tobacco manufacturing were Lynchburg, Petersburg, and Richmond. After the Civil War, North Carolina emerged as the center of tobacco processing, and cigarette brands named after Winston and Salem commemorated manufacturing centers in that state.

Richmond is still dotted with old tobacco facilities. The Liggett and Myers cigarette manufacturing plant in downtown Richmond is now an office building. Tobacco storage warehouses on the slopes of Church Hill are being converted into housing for young, upwardly-mobile professionals. Twenty-five years ago, it was common in the early morning for the whole downtown to smell of ripening tobacco. The closest warehouses now are several miles south of town - as you drive by on I-95, look for the blue sheds with "Shh! Tobacco sleeping" sign.

Four types of tobacco were raised by Virginia farmers, but one specialty version is no longer grown in sufficient quality to be recorded in the government statistics. Virginia tobacco farmers grow bright tobacco (classified by the US Department of Agriculture as flue-tobacco or Type 11) in what USDA calls the Piedmont District (basically Southside Virginia, east of the Blue Ridge).

Burley (Type 31) tobacco is grown primarily in Southwestern Virginia. The Blue Ridge separates the bright and burley regions. Until the mid-1990's, 98% of the burley in Virginia was grown west of Patrick County.

In addition, small amounts of tobacco classified as fire-cured (Type 21, cured with smoke) and sun (Type 37, cured in direct sunlight) are grown in Virginia. Sun-cured tobaccos, often grown in Turkey and the Balkans, are added to many types of cigarettes to add aroma.

Bright tobacco leaves are picked as they ripen, the bottom leaves first. The requirement to make multiple trips through the tobacco fields, to harvest leaves as they ripen, is one reason tobacco is still a labor intensive crop.

The picked leaves are flue-cured. A half-dozen or so leaves will be tied together at their base, and the bundles will be hung in air-tight barns. The barns are heated by propane burners located outside the barn, with flues carrying the heat into the barn to bake the leaves slowly. As the green tobacco leaves dry out and cure in the dry heat, the leaves turn yellow with brown "sugar spots."


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