Past season a challenge for tobacco growers
Ontario tobacco growers will deliver to buyers in this month the final loads of their 2016 harvest, which declined for a third straight year.
According to Ministry of Finance records, 195 flue-cured tobacco growers in Norfolk, Brant, Oxford, Elgin and Middlesex counties had licences to plant tobacco on 15,353 approved acres with an expected harvest of 41.34 million pounds.
Those figures represent a decline from the 2015 crop, in which 241 growers were licensed to plant a crop on 21,670 acres, with a 57-million-pound harvest. It’s the third decline in a row.
The ministry also licensed 38 growers to plant non flue-cured tobacco on 927 acres for a harvest of 2.6 million pounds. Taking fluecured and non-flue-cured crops together, the number of growers and their total crop is still down significantly.
According to records, 2013 was a peak year after a major buyout a few years earlier of growers and quota under the old Ontario FlueCured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board and a move to independent contracting and growers licensed under the ministry.
That year, 243 growers planted a collective 23,000 acres of leaf for an expected harvest of 62 million pounds.
Not only were the number of operations and the collective harvest down this year, but growers faced challenges from unco-operative weather. Little rain and hot weather over prolonged stretches of time forced growers to irrigate more.
Haldimand- Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett, the Progressive Conservative critic for agriculture, food and rural affairs, said that many tobacco growers he has talked to complain of lower yields.
“There is just so much diesel and so much irrigating you can afford to use when you have the kind of drought they faced this year,” Barrett said in an interview.
He said he has yet to see a response to a letter he wrote earlier this month to Finance Minister Charles Sousa after nearly a dozen tobacco growers were each issued $2,500 fines for planting above their approved acreage.
Barrett said in his letter that there are discrepancies in the GPS measurements of some crops. And he noted that growers were accustomed to a system in which they would get notices during midsummer when their plantings exceeded approved acreage and were given a chance to do supervised cutdowns of overages.
The system changed this year, and resulted in growers just getting notices and fines.
“We had a lot of back and forth with the ministry before the letter and I expect we’ll have more yet,” said Barrett.
There is just so much diesel and so much irrigating you can afford to use when you have the kind of drought they faced this year.” Toby Barrett, Haldimand-Norfolk MPP