Wednesday, January 16, 2013

About Tobacco Farming

About Tobacco

Tobacco farming was once the staple of the colonial United States' economy. Since the 1950s, with the discovery that tobacco has negative effects on human health, the industry has steadily declined from more than half a million farms to less than 35,000. Some historians estimate that tobacco has been grown and used in various ways in the Americas for more than ten thousand years.


Tobacco is a plant of the genus Nicotiana. Prior to colonization, it was used as an entheogen in the Americas. An entheogen is a mind-altering drug or substance used for religious or shamanic purposes. There are more than 60 species of tobacco, although two are primarily grown today. Large leaf tobacco, Nicotiana tobacum is most often grown and used for commercial cigarettes. The small leaf species, Nicotiana rustica is also grown by some tobacco farmers.


Tobacco farming in the United States was first attempted in 1612 by Englishman John Rolfe, who soon realized that tobacco grew efficiently in the state of Virginia. Plus, he learned, he could sell it to England at a great profit. Before tobacco, many early American farms failed miserably and families were unable to support themselves. Once Americans realized the potential profit available from tobacco farming, they began to plant it everywhere they could. By 1622, tobacco farming became a major staple in colonial economy. Since the colonies were still under English rule, they were forbidden to trade tobacco or other resources with any other countries directly. Tobacco became a form of currency, even serving to pay fines issued against farmers by the English government. In fact, during this time, a man's wealth could be estimated by the amount of tobacco he had.


Tobacco farming became one of the primary industries for the states of Virginia and Maryland. Between 1758 and 1762, Virginia earned around 6000 pounds (just over $9000 US dollars) per year based on the 2 shilling (about 20 cents) duty paid on each hogshead of tobacco exported to England. From about 1700, Maryland earned around 2500 pounds (almost $4000 US dollars) each year in profit. While the populations of tobacco growing states increased, so did the production and sales of tobacco. Laws were created to protect and regulate tobacco farming and sales.


Since tobacco production was so high, the English market became saturated, causing the price of tobacco to drop drastically. This, of course, caused significant financial woes for American tobacco farmers. In an attempt to survive, the colonists tried to even things out by expanding the quantity they exported. They began to mix other substances with the tobacco they exported---things like leaves and the dirt they swept up from their homes. While this was a temporary solution to the farmers' financial problems, it caused the reputation of U.S. tobacco to decline significantly, lowering the price even further.


Following the decline of tobacco sales to England, the colonial government tried to regulate tobacco farming. They made laws and guidelines which reduced the amount of tobacco produced. They determined a set weight measurement for hogsheads of tobacco and prohibited bulk shipments of tobacco. Plus, they disallowed the shipment of "trash" tobacco (that which contained leaves or other additives). However, these solutions didn't fix the problem because the colonial government had no way to effectively enforce them. In 1730, though, the passing of the Virginia Inspection Act changed the face of the tobacco farming industry and laws began to be enforced. Following the induction of the Virginia Inspection Act, Maryland tobacco farmers realized that it gave their Virginia counterparts a considerable advantage, since it raised the quality and reputation of their product. In response, Maryland passed the Maryland Inspection Act, which remains in effect today.

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