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Tobacco in the Suwannee Valley

Agricultural production within the Suwannee Valley is the number one economic driver in the North-central region of Florida. Since the 1920’s, the Suwannee Valley area of the state has been known for producing premium quality tobacco. Historically, tobacco companies have sought after the high yielding, top-quality leaf provided by the sandy soil and ideal climate in North Florida. However, tobacco growers began facing abundant challenges in recent years which encouraged many producers to sell their operations or transition into growing different crops. Examples of these challenges include; long distance proximity to the point of sale and high costs of freight, robust production in foreign countries where it can be grown more cost-effectively in those situations, very high cost of inputs, and access to labor to name a few.  Although tobacco has declined in importance as a commodity here over the past half century, it has bolstered the foundation for which other crops could be grown. Tobacco allowed growers to incur the cash-flow needed to integrate and diversify their farming operations. With the dependable cash flow, farmers had the means to integrate with cattle or swine and grow other crops of interest on their farms. Many of the rural towns were built upon the net returns generated in the small North Florida communities from the sale of their tobacco harvests. This was a very labor-intensive crop and involved families, neighbors, friends and communities coming together, helping each other and benefiting from the revenue provided. To this day, the Suwannee Valley region maintains its heritage deeply rooted in agriculture with tobacco having a decreased presence compared to its historic past, yet it continues to be a steadfast option for a few resilient growers.

Although only a small percentage of the farming population is involved in tobacco production, they are a thriving part of our economic well-being and diversification within the agricultural industry in the region.

  • Currently, the common type grown here, Flue-Cured Tobacco, maintains a significant acreage in five counties in Florida including Lafayette, Suwannee, Hamilton, Columbia, and Alachua counties.
  • From tobacco alone, the farm gate value exceeds seven million dollars in the Suwannee River Valley.
  • Tobacco is grown on over 1,100 acres in the Suwannee Valley of North Florida.
  • This area is home to a variety of other crops including grain and silage corn, watermelon, peanuts, forages, sweet potatoes, carrots, snap beans and cow peas to name a few.
  • The total economic value of agricultural products from the Suwannee Valley sums up to over 1 billion, of the 8 billion dollars in agricultural products sold from the state.
Did You Know?

Tobacco can be consumed, used as an organic pesticide, and in the form of nicotine tartrate, it is used in some medicines. It had already long been used in the Americas when European settlers arrived and introduced the practice to Europe, where it became popular. It is the most commonly grown plant in the world that is not used for food.

A local producer in Suwannee County, Lord Farms, participates in a tobacco variety demonstration each year led by UGA Tobacco Agronomist, Dr. J. Michael Moore of Tifton, Ga. Attendees from across the Southeast look forward to the annual Florida-Georgia Tobacco Tour. The farm pictured here has been a tour stop for many years.

By De Broughton and Chris Vann

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution

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