Small-scale tobacco growers who want to increase their profit margins might consider growing certified organic tobacco. While organic methods are considerably more labor-intensive than standard agricultural practices, the premium price paid to organic tobacco farmers makes small scale growing financially feasible.
Although tobacco retailers advise that even an additive-free cigarette is not a healthy cigarette, organic tobacco is a better choice for habitual smokers who wish to avoid further harm in addition to the negative effects of smoking. Additionally, those who use tobacco for respectful, ceremonial purposes appreciate the more earth-friendly practices used to cultivate organic tobacco.
About Certified Organic Tobacco
While the concept may at first seem odd, the premise is the same for that of any other organic product. Chemical-free cultivation techniques reduce the amount of harmful residues entering local ecosystems and drinking water supplies. While smoking is hardly a health-promoting activity, many smokers welcome the option to minimize the harmful effects of smoking tobacco contaminated with pesticide residues.
Organic tobacco represents an unusual opportunity for tobacco farmers as well. The publication Tobacco International reports that organic cigarette brands are actively recruiting small-scale, family-run tobacco farms for conversion to organic practices, offering over twice the market price normally paid for non-organic tobacco. Organic farming and gardening requires a good deal of hand labor and is not well-suited to mechanization. This puts small-scale farmers at a distinct advantage over all but the largest operations.
Tobacco International points out that with improved mechanization in the tobacco industry, it is increasingly difficult for family farms to be competitive in the market. Organic niche marketing offers family farms the ability to maintain financial viability while producing a crop grown in an ecologically sensitive way.
Requirements for Certification
Tobacco farmers must submit to the same certification process as for any other organic crop. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) outlines six steps to organic certification:
- The tobacco farmer must contact a United States Department of Agriculture (UDSA) accredited certifier to begin the certification process.
- The farmer must then fill out an application and pay related fees. The application will include a detailed organic systems plan (OSP) that outlines the land use history and source of seed stock, as well as planting, cultivation, and harvest techniques.
- The certifier reviews the application and assigns a site inspector.
- Inspection occurs before certification is issued, but is also carried out annually thereafter. Organic certification inspectors check sales records, crop management techniques, harvest techniques, pest control procedures, and even storage areas for the tobacco.
- The certifier reviews the findings of the inspection.
- If all appears to be in compliance with established USDA protocols, organic certification is issued.
ATTRA points out that very small suppliers, those earning less than $5000.00 annually from their crops, do not need to submit to inspection and certification. In this case, the farmer can legally sell tobacco as organic, but cannot market to processors or use the USDA organic seal. Additionally, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau sets out regulations specific to the tobacco industry that organic tobacco growers should be familiar with in addition to ATTRA certification standards.
Organic Tobacco for Consumers
The best way to protect your health and the environment is to quit smoking altogether, but if you must smoke, organic tobacco is a gentler option that will do less harm to both. Fortunately, there is an ever-increasing variety of tobacco companies offering this more ecologically sensitive option. Established retailers include:
- Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company: In addition to growing organic tobacco, this company prides itself on social responsibility and ethical business practices. The company offers cigarettes as well as loose tobacco mixtures.
- Mother Earth Tobacco: A Canadian company that offers ceremonial certified organic tobacco in two sizes.
In a perfect world, the only need for tobacco would be ceremonial. For now, it is important that tobacco consumers of all kinds have the option to purchase a product that has been grown using earth-friendly and responsible cultivation practices.