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Tobacco board transitioning with times

Once a well-known entity in the hey days of tobacco growing, the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board has transitioned from a supply management organization, with board directors working to raised their profile again.

Tobacco Plants
Ready to plant, Anthony DeCarolis holds a tray of plants in his greenhouse. The chairman of the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board comes from a family with a long history in the crop.

Commonly called “The Tobacco Board”, it officially came into being in 1957 after a provisional committee was formed. Growers worked towards the formation of the board in a time when contract buying was the only way to sell a crop. The board’s mandate was to control the production and marketing of flue-cured tobacco in Ontario. All growers had to be members of the board.

After quota buyouts in 2004 and 2008, the board’s role was diminished and it no longer was responsible for marketing tobacco. Contract buying returned and supervision of crop production went to the Ontario Ministry of Finance.

“There was a period after the Ministry of Finance took over where the board played a minimal role, taking care of old business, including the lawsuits against the cigarette companies,” said current chair Anthony DeCarolis. “In 2017, a lot of the old members resigned, new members came in and we became more active.”

Since 2017, the board has been doing more to assist growers. Growers were required to register with the board again and a fee was reinstituted so the board had money.

“At the beginning when I first came in, we didn’t know who all the tobacco farmers were and how many acres they were growing,” DeCarolis said.

Today there are roughly 130 growers and 15,000 acres, producing 46,000 pounds.

The board has become more active in the Canadian Tobacco Research Foundation and required all farmers to participate in research funding, has been more proactive in trying to entice new chemical manufacturers to come to Canada and advocates for growers with the Ministry of Finance. “You think a meeting with government would be easy but it took years to get that,” DeCarolis said.

The CTRF, which used to have an office and operate at the Delhi Research Station, today rents an office in Tillsonburg and partners with growers to host experiments on their farms. One of the pushes is to register Flumetralin for use in Canada. This product is a semi-systemic growth inhibitor used for sucker control in the United States and across the world.

“It stays in certain areas of the plant when you apply it so it lasts longer,” DeCarolis said. “What we are using now is contact only, it falls on the plant, the chemical burns some of the plant tissue on the surface and that’s the end of it.”

In the days of larger crops and more growers, chemical companies wanted to come to Canada. Now, the board is having to seek them. DeCarolis said companies are reluctant to come to Canada because of the intensive approval process and the relatively small crop size.

One thing DeCarolis is sure of is there will not be a return to the board marketing the crop, and contracting will remain. “There’s no way Canada will go back to marketing when it’s gone,” he said.

DeCarolis is going into his third year as chairman. He is a fifth-generation tobacco farmer, based in Walsh. He works with his brother, but notes there are plenty of his cousins in tobacco as well. In fact, his third cousin Meghan DeCarolis, is the vice-president.

“You get born into it. You grow into it,” he said.

Although many growers must have another crop, he said many have stuck with tobacco.

“When the buyout happened. a lot of us only had infrastructure for tobacco so we thought let’s keep going.”

Now, with prices and global demand up, most tobacco farmers are glad they stuck with it. 


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