Growing Our Own

The story of Canada’s astonishing increase in tobacco production

DOUGLAS MACKAY January 15 1927

Growing Our Own

The story of Canada’s astonishing increase in tobacco production

DOUGLAS MACKAY January 15 1927

Growing Our Own

The story of Canada’s astonishing increase in tobacco production


WHEN that stout-hearted patriot, Tecumseh, puffed the vile smoke of a viler weed into the faces of red-coated British generals during the campaigns of 1812, it was never guessed that the same smudgy plant would be grown on old Ontario battle-grounds at real profits. Certainly, Tecumseh would never have believed that his tobacco would be bartered for clinking British gold. Yet to-day in Southern Ontario, in the same counties where loyal Indians repulsed the invader more than 100 years ago, great tobacco plantations have come into being.

The export trade in tobacco has taken a sudden and spectacular leap. Tobacco in Canada is grown in a section of Quebec, a section of Ontario, and to a limited extent in the Okanagan valley of British Columbia, but it is the Ontario area which produces the exportable tobacco that is of particular interest at the present time. Now the British Empire is very crude as a business institution. As a community from an industrial standpoint it is cumbersome, with its raw materials, its machinery, and its markets deplorably laid out. Y et it works. Witness how tobacco has become the latest bond of Empire. The plump and illustrious Chancellor of the British Exchequer stood

scrutinized the red patches on the map of the world. A small corner of south-western Ontario was found to be the spot in the Empire which grew tobacco to the British taste. It was scarcely a matter of hours before action commenced. Crisp cables were exchanged. Men crossed the sea. Capital was found, and Canada had a new. industry. Land values looked up in the tobacco growing counties of Ontario, and the summer found curing plants and warehouses springing up in Ontario communities. It was all very dramatic. Ontario Gains What Kentucky Loses WORLD trade currents are not changed quickly. They swing along like ocean tides, but this was a striking exception where, in the course of a few days, an export market worth millions of dollars was lost to Kentucky and gained by Ontario. The British buyers had always secured their tobacco from Kentucky and paid eight shillings a pound to get it into England, but Winston Churchill’s imperial gesture knocked a neat loophole in the British tariff and admitted the Canadian product for six shillings a pound. Kentucky staggered under what was really a terrific blow to the industry in that state, and Kentuckians were sent as scouts to Ontario to find out what it was all about. The scouts came, and sent back reports of big times

up in the halls of Westminster last spring and in the course of his budget speech announced a tariff preference on Britishgrown tobacco. Three thousand miles away a few acres of British soil took on an unexpected significance. Boards of directors of great British tobacco corporations called in their experts and Tobacco growers in the counties of Essex, Kent, Elgin and Norfolk, in Ontario, are reaping unexpected prosperity as the result of an unprecedented demand in Great Britain for Canadianproduced tobacco. Right: A typical tobacco field in South-Western Ontario. In circle : The tobacco planter at work. His machine digs a hole and pours a quart of Water into it. The boys pul in the plants.

ahead, and remained themselves to get in on the start of the new industry. Kentucky had received a rude shock, and eventually may be cut off from the British market. All because the tobacco growers of Ontario were invited A to come in by the family entrance and do business with be John Bull. The Federal Department of Agriculture advised the Canadian growers to stand by. It hinted of pleasant things that were going to happen to the 1926 crop. The new. crop came in and bidding for export tobacco commenced. In Kentucky offers fluctuated around seven cents a pound, and in Ontario thirty and thirty-five cents. Land It values along the north shore of Lake Erie jumped. The volume of export trade doubled. Tobacco grows best in a type of soil known technically as ‘Dunkirk.’ On this continent, Dunkirk soil lies in a curious belt which starts in Virginia and curves up through Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and a stretches in a ribbon along the north shore of Lake an Erie through the counties of Essex, Kent, Elgin and to Norfolk. These are the Ontario counties which have suddenly acquired a new importance in inter-imperial trade. get A $10,000,000 Crop IN 1900 Canada had less than 12,000 acres under the tobacco, with an annual yield of 11,267,000 pounds. In the 1925 the commercial acreage was 28,000 with a field of shilover 20,000,000 pounds. The 1926 crop in Ontario alone was 29,500,000 pounds, with an estimated value of $7,000,000. It is known now that the 1926 acreage will be capable of producing a crop worth $10,000,000 this year inbecause of the more intensive cultivation and scientific that treatment that is being applied to tobacco. One British Kenfirm is building in Chatham a plant to handle 4,000,000 pounds of tobacco this year, with a total capacity for to more than double this amount. Sir Philip Cunliffefind Lister, president of the British Board of Trade, told the was delegates to the Imperial Conference last autumn that The before the war the Empire supplied the United Kingdom and with one and a half per cent, of its tobacco. Now it supplies eleven per cent., of which Canada provides a very large proportion.

So spectacular has been the rush to invest in this new phase of Canadian agriculture that all the vices of a land boom barely have been averted. For a time government officials looked on with alarm and even yet there is a nervousness displayed in the matter of farm land values in some of the sections of the counties mentioned. Certainly, prices have risen.

Sixty Acres Produce $15,000

TOBACCO growing in Essex is as old as the settlement of that county. Sixty-five years ago there was some business done, for records show that tobacco was grown, packed in hogsheads and sold to schooner captains at Lake Erie ports. Fifteen years ago the Federal Department of Agriculture established an experimental farm at Harrow. The work carried on there, with all the tireless patience of scientific experiment, has been the basis of the new prosperity. Of course, there has been a steady growth in the trade; the sudden impetus of last year really was only a climax. As a class, farmers are not quick to take advantage of suggestions, and it has been by perseverance, demonstration, and suggestions as to types and varieties of tobacco, as well as instruction in the use of fertilizer, the handling of growing crops, and the curing and preparation for market, that progress has been made. Through the work of the experts, farmers have been able to increase production and land values have gone up to ten times what they were ten years ago.

The records of four Ontario farms last year are interesting. The four farms had in all ninety-six and a half acres in tobacco, and yielded 99,500 pounds of ‘Bright’ tobacco, or an average of 1,031 pounds per acre. The total revenue per acre was $460.02. From this was deducted costs of $284.55 per acre, leaving a profit on each acre sown of $174.47—a surplus that should make the most prosperous farmer yearn for a patch of Dunkirk soil.

One private farmer, following the very latest methods, cleared over $15,000 from sixty acres of tobacco.

Dark Fired, Dark Air Cured, and Burley are the most important crops insofar as the Canadian export business is concerned. The land and climate in South-Western Ontario are specially adapted for these types. Their export is of comparatively recent date, but such an impression is being made in the British market that they are securing a solid foothold there and they will soon be used as standard Canadian types, and not as substitutes for the American-grown product.

As an example of this year’s production in these grades, one grower from Kentucky sold 70,000 pounds at thirty-five cents a pound. This was grown on fifty acres and the cost per pound was very much lower than that of the Virginia type.

How the Plant is Nurtured

ALTHOUGH tobacco remains in the C*land only from seventy to one hundred days, it requires attention for a greater length of time. To insure a good crop, care must commence in April when seed beds are made and continue until the crop is sold in January or February of the following year.

Rich, light soil, containing a good supply of vegetable matter yields the best results, light-colored soil producing light colored tobacco. The soil used requires frequent fertilizing and can be employed only in alternate seasons. That is, after a harvest the land must

not be used for tobacco until another season has elapsed. The seeds are very small and must be nurtured in the early spring in glass covered beds during the second week of April. About May 25 the plant should be ready for setting out. A planting machine—an ingenious device which digs, plants and waters in one process—is drawn by a team of horses, and with three men working it will set out 20,000 plants a day. During growth the plants are hoed and hilled by hand, and as they mature the lower leaves touching the earth must be cut off. Suckers appear and must be removed carefully from each leaf.

A leaf of tobacco is considered ripe when it becomes spotted with small yellow markings. The tips of the leaves curve and stiffen and will break off sharply. The plants are cut off at the stalk, if possible in dry weather, and then are put together in bunches and left on the ground to wilt. When wilted they are hung on trestles or moveable racks and allowed to remain in the fields for several days. The trestles are taken to curing barns where they hang in dense tiers. For the Dark Fired tobacco, curing barns are used in which the ventilation is completely under control, the air being first shut off and later admitted as the leaves turn brown. In the event of damp weather small fires are built on the earth floor of the barn. For the Virginia tobacco, kilns are used in which the heat is kept up to 216 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tobacco is considered cured and is taken down from the tiers when the color is a light brown and the leaf ribs are wrinkled. It should be supple but not damp. The leaves are then stripped from the stalks and tied up into bundles of ‘hands’ after being graded according to color and freedom from tears. They are then packed lightly into bales and are ready for the market.

Our Bill For Smokes

THE two countries which occupy the bulk of this North American continent are populated with consistent cigar smokers. Eighteen years ago there were about seven billion cigars consumed annually, and in 1925 there were about the same number smoked. The consumption of of cigarettes, on the other hand, has shown the extraordinary increase of from seven billion, eighteen years ago, to about seventy-five billion last year. This re-

markable increase has taken place in spite of stiff government taxation and opposition by social reformers.

In Canada the cigars consumed each year total something over 100 million and approximately two billion cigarettes go up in smoke annually. In 1925 two and onehalf billion cigarettes were manufactured in this country, as well as four million pounds of pipe and chewing tobacco. In all, 25,878,766 pounds of leaf tobacco were prepared in Canada in 1925. For the privilege of smoking Canadians paid their government more than $15,000,000 in excise taxes. For every twenty-five cent package of twenty cigarettes purchased, the Department of Customs and Excise at Ottawa got fifteen cents. These figures give some indication of the magnitude of the trade. Of course, it must always be remembered that seventyfive per cent, of the tobacco consumed in Canada is grown here.

It is the Virginia tobacco, also the Dark Fired and Burley, that is now being grown with such success; Kentucky emigres have pronounced the Canadiangrown crops of these varieties as good as the product of their native state. The war dealt a blow to Turkish and Egyptian cigarettes and they have never come back into popular favor. Both terms, incidentally, are misleading, for Egypt does not grow tobacco, and most of the socalled Turkish cigarettes are made from tobacco grown in Greece.

Cigarette Making Explained

CIGARETTES are nothing more than chopped tobacco rolled in paper by machinery. The old trade of rolling cigarettes by hand is long dead. The cured, leaf tobacco is purchased from the farmer directly, put

Production of ‘the weed' beloved by the smoker is an intricate process which requires both knowledge and skill. Lower left: Young tobacco plants starting in seed beds. Lov)er right: Hauling tobacco to the curing barns. Centre: Cut tobacco, wilting in the field. Circle: A typical tobacco-curing barn fitted with ventilating devices.

through a drying process and packed in hogsheads. It is allowed to age from three to five years and is then removed from the hogsheads to be cleaned after which it is blended according to the carefully guarded formula of the manufacturer.

I n the matter of tobacco production, Canada is in the position of a favored nation within the British Commonwealth. Practical imperialism and the fortunate texture of a certain strip of soil have combined to provide another rung in the ever growing ladder of the Dominion’s prosperity.