Last month my friends Roger and Kath took a number of excellent photos of the tobacco fields near where they live in the Creuse Valley close to the town of Descartes. They’ve kindly shared them with me to post on my blog.
There are around 2,270 tobacco growers throughout France who employ some 30,000 seasonal workers, employed sometimes for up to six months per year in over 60 departments. All these growers are organised into 7 tobacco co-operatives coordinated through France Tabac U.S.C.A. Since the 70s, France Tabac’s role has consisted in implementing and developing production as well as marketing and partially processing the tobacco varieties grown in France. In 1985 it set up its processing plant in Sarlat, Dordogne. The site is for the processing of light-air & flue-cured tobaccos to produce uniform blends, marketed to end-product manufacturers of cigarettes, rolling tobacco, cigars etc. including British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, JTI S.A. and Philip Morris International .
Average surface area of land given over to tobacco production is: 1.5 ha (for the Burley, air cured variety, which is used mainly in cigarettes) to 5.8 ha (Flue-Cured tobacco – a darker tobacco used, I believe, in cigars).
France is, in fact the 5th leading European producer of tobacco with some 17,000 ha of plantations. Production runs at 17,000 tonnes per year, with 96 % of light air- & flue-cured varieties exported to 20 countries. The high rate of exports for cigarette tobacco is for at least three reasons. 1. The quality of French-grown tobacco is inferior to other varieties, e.g. Virginia, and there is no market for it in Europe. 2. The tobacco is ‘dumped’ on third world countries to maintain the French tobacco production which continues because of the vested interests concerned. 3. With declining markets for tobacco in Europe and the USA, including bans on smoking in public places, tobacco companies are aggressively developing markets in the Third World.
It’s worth noting that about 66,000 people die in France every year due to smoking – and 6,000 of them have never smoked.The tobacco-growing process in France: Tobacco begins to grow in early March, when the seed is sown in nurseries or floating seed beds. Several weeks after germination, seedlings are hardened and, towards mid-May transplanting takes place. At the beginning of summer, plants reach a height of 1.60m which is when they start to flower. At this stage the grower cuts the flower at the top of the head to enable the leaves to develop to a maximum. There are about twenty per stalk, wide, fluted and hanging slightly down. When the first discolourations appear, as the leaves mature they start to turn yellow, the harvest begins around July or August and demands much attentive labour. The tobacco is then cured in sheds with hot air or in traditional curing sheds or greenhouses. It is finally sorted during the autumn before being delivered to the cooperative purchasing centres. For an illustrated description of this process click here.
I have written an older blog on the History of Tobacco Growing in France just click here.
Do also visit France Tabac’s website from which I have drawn some of the information for this blog.
Finally, I and Will Simpson, recently produced a short booklet, Nicotiana Brittanica – The Cotswolds’ Illicit Tobacco Cultivation In The 17th Century. Just contact me if you would like a copy – it’ll cost you just £1 of 1€ plus p&p.