Georgia’s Tobacco Belt

By: Tom Chenock

Georgia has a rich history in farming from foods like onions, peaches, and pecans to textiles like cotton. One crop that was very popular and profitable to grow was tobacco. When tobacco made its way in Georgia, it was one of the most profiting plants to grow but required a lot of labor. It was constant work and worry from the time you started growing until you brought it to market. While many farmers grew many crops, tobacco was what could make a farmers year very profitable. Georgia’s tobacco region was mostly in the southern part of the state where the weather is warmer since it’s closer to the beach and the winters are less harsh. The farmers living here lived extraordinary lives filled with hard work, family values, diversity, and all the benefits from what they grew and earned selling those goods.

Tobacco has a rich history from its European discovery when Columbus sailed to the Americas to its worldwide use and eventual discovery of carcinogens and its modern decline today. Tobacco was referred to as “brown gold” because of its value and was always a cash crop. It was first commercially cultivated in 1612 by John Rolfe in Virginia and over the next few centuries spread throughout the U.S. Specifically stretching south to what is referred to as the Tobacco belt from North Carolina cutting down south ending in northern Florida. Georgia’s tobacco belt lies on southern coastal part of the state where the weather is tame in the winter and the summers are hot which can be ideal for tobacco plants. A combination of the weather and the soil grew a high quality tobacco that was in demand.

Tobacco and cotton where the most cultivated crops after the American revolution in Georgia but for the longest time, cotton was king. When Bright leaf tobacco became popular in the  20th century the tobacco belt stretched down south along the coast. Georgia farmers would add it to their crop rotation and would make a larger amount of money because of the demand for Bright leaf tobacco. Unlike northern plantations, tobacco grown in the south has more ideal conditions for tobacco to grow. The soil along the southern coastal plain of Georgia help create the brown coloring of the tobacco plant making the low quality soil ideal for growing. Some of the best quality tobacco came from Georgia. A tobacco farm isn’t labeled a tobacco farm unless it has more than 50% of its crop shares growing. Most Georgia farmers grew many different plants for crop rotations. Growing Tobacco along with cotton can be rough on the soil which called for crop rotations. But the low quality of the soil helped with the way tobacco grew and was cured inside the tobacco warehouses. Farmers really lived off the land and lived off the profits they earned from selling and trading tobacco. It was an essential cash crop for survival in the Georgia Tobacco belt.

 

Modern farming tobacco today is still grown in Georgia but a decline in farming has lead to an increase in their farm size but a decline in the overall amount of farms. Today most farmers grown flue-cured tobacco which grows well in the south. Farming tobacco in today’s world requires a lot of machinery and labor. There has been an overall decline in the use of tobacco today. Tobacco products are now known to cause many types of problems from heart disease to lung cancer and we’ve seen a shift from tobacco use and its popularity. Tobaccos decline was also affected by its marketing advertising. In the 21rst century we can almost see no advertisements for tobacco products outside of gas stations. before 1990, advertisement for tobacco was all over magazines and merchandise. As long as people like to smoke people will but we are much more aware of the health problems it may bring. But who doesn’t like to relax from time to time and enjoy a cigar.

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