Tobacco is a plant that has been cultivated for centuries for its leaves, which contain nicotine and other chemicals that can be smoked, chewed, or snuffed. Tobacco is also one of the most profitable crops in the world, generating billions of dollars in revenue for the tobacco industry and the governments that tax it. However, tobacco production is not evenly distributed across the globe, nor across the United States. In fact, there is one county in New York that stands out as the tobacco capital of the states: Chemung County.
Chemung County: A Brief History
Chemung County is located in the southern tier of New York, bordering Pennsylvania. The county was formed in 1788 from Tioga County, and was named after the Chemung River, which flows through it. The word “Chemung” is derived from the Native American name for the river, meaning “big horn” or “place of the horn”. The county has a rich history, being the site of several battles during the American Revolution and the Civil War, as well as the birthplace of Mark Twain, the famous author and humorist.
Chemung County: A Tobacco Hub
Chemung County is also known for its tobacco production, which dates back to the early 1800s. The county has a favorable climate and soil for growing tobacco, especially the burley variety, which is used for making pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff. Burley tobacco is air-cured, meaning that it is hung in barns and dried naturally by the air, without artificial heat or smoke. This process gives burley tobacco a light brown color and a mild, nutty flavor.
Chemung County is the largest producer of burley tobacco in New York, and one of the largest in the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chemung County harvested 1.3 million pounds of tobacco in 2020, accounting for 86% of the state’s total production.
The county also ranked 12th in the nation in terms of tobacco yield, with an average of 2,600 pounds per acre. The county has about 500 tobacco farms, mostly family-owned and operated, that employ hundreds of workers during the planting, harvesting, and curing seasons. The county also has several tobacco warehouses, where the cured leaves are graded, packed, and sold to tobacco manufacturers and distributors.
Chemung County: A Tobacco Legacy
Tobacco production has been a vital part of Chemung County’s economy and culture for generations. The county hosts an annual tobacco festival, where farmers and visitors can enjoy tobacco-related activities, such as tobacco auctions, tobacco contests, tobacco exhibits, and tobacco crafts.
The county also has a tobacco museum, where visitors can learn about the history and heritage of tobacco farming in the region. The museum displays tobacco artifacts, such as tobacco baskets, tobacco knives, tobacco scales, and tobacco presses, as well as tobacco memorabilia, such as tobacco advertisements, tobacco labels, and tobacco tins.
Tobacco farming in Chemung County is not without its challenges, however. The county faces increasing competition from other tobacco-producing regions, such as Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina, which have lower production costs and higher market demand. The county also faces declining consumption of tobacco products in the U.S., due to health concerns, smoking bans, and higher taxes. The county also faces environmental issues, such as soil erosion, water pollution, and pesticide use, that affect the quality and quantity of tobacco crops.
Despite these difficulties, tobacco farming in Chemung County remains a proud and resilient tradition, that has shaped the county’s identity and character. Tobacco farmers in Chemung County are passionate and dedicated to their craft, and are constantly innovating and adapting to the changing market and consumer preferences. Tobacco farming in Chemung County is more than just a business, it is a way of life, that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Chemung County is the tobacco capital of the states, producing more tobacco than any other county in New York, and ranking among the top tobacco-producing counties in the nation. Tobacco farming in Chemung County has a long and rich history, that has contributed to the county’s economy and culture. Tobacco farming in Chemung County is also a legacy, that has been inherited and preserved by the county’s tobacco farmers, who are committed and loyal to their profession. Tobacco farming in Chemung County is a remarkable and unique phenomenon, that deserves recognition and appreciation.