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  • Norfolk Farms

29 years a tobacco grower

The challenge of tobacco farming just keeps becoming more daunting.

Most recently, of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from the global threat of the virulent disease, the crop is subject to international and domestic

economic and social changes on a variety of fronts.

Brian and Linda Mels have grown tobacco for 29 years

Tobacco was the economic foundation of Today, there are only 160 producers and Brian Mels of Scotland is one of them.

Both he and his wife Linda were born and raised on tobacco farms so they have a strong connection to the crop.

However, Mels readily admits there has been major upheavals in the industry over the past 30 years. Starting with an anti-smoking crusade, tobacco usage dropped off dramatically. The established provincial controlled production and marketing system, dominated by major international companies, teetered on the brink. Growers took advantage of government

quota buy-outs and exited the industry.

But tobacco remained a viable crop and private industry

stepped into the market. Some of the biggest players were,

ironically, local natives represented by Norfolk Leaf Tobacco.

The Mels were among growers who decided to ride out the

new realities.

“Tobacco is up and down,” he said. “It’s the nature of the

beast, although this (current conditions) is an oucher.”

Canadian tobacco remains popular on world markets because

of its flavour, chemical composition and overall quality.

Looking at economies of scale, the Mels and Linda"s parents,

the Steyaerts diversified their production into ginseng, corn and

soybeans on six farms.

Operationally, Mels said their almost contiguous farms allow

them to maximize equipment and labour assets. They normally

hire 15 off-shore workers, including a crew to hand-harvest tobacco

and ginseng, along with automatic harvesting.

This season the market is yet to be determined and Mels

said it is rumoured there will be significant cuts in production

because there is a glut of tobacco in the United States, China is

not buying and dwindling markets in Europe.

The almost perennial erosion of prices is another negative

factor. Over the past 15 years, the top price per pound has fallen

more than 40 cents.

The future for tobacco farming is in constant flux and there

are real concerns. And on top of everything, all the negatives will

likely be exacerbated by the pandemic.

"Our kids, Justin and Brittany, are appreciative of the work

of their grandparents (the Steyaerts, who immigrated from the

Netherlands in 1960)," Mels said. "Their university education

was paid by farm summer employment to earn their degrees.

"With modern technology and demanding administration

requirements we rely on them for their expertise in our daily

business operation, Mels, said." Despite the challenges we intend

to preserve the family farms so there is always a farm to

come home to for the next generation." 

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