Agriculture Experts Seek Tobacco Substitute
You say tobacco, Brent Rowell says tomato.
Rowell is a University of Kentucky vegetable specialist studying ways to make the Kentucky-grown tomato a viable alternative to tobacco.
``I think after this year we will have one that will work,'' Rowell said.
His work is part of efforts by family-farm advocates, including the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Community Farm Alliance and Commodity Growers Cooperative, to help the state's 62,000 small farmers retool if they can't live off the state's No. 1 cash crop anymore.
Agriculture leaders want to use half of Kentucky's $3.45 billion first-phase tobacco settlement money to hire field staff and conduct field trials into alternatives.
``Lots of tobacco farmers are on the outside looking in and wanting to test the water,'' Rowell said. ``But when you're starting with a whole new technology, and in this case a real cultural change, you've got to have lots of hands-on help.''
But it could be a tough sell for a state outpaced by vegetables grown in other tobacco states. Vegetables are a $40 million crop in Kentucky. Fellow tobacco state North Carolina already sells 10 times that amount, according to the USDA.
``You still can't get any crop insurance because the quantities of vegetables grown in Kentucky are too small to attract an insurer,'' said Georgetown grower Ann Bell. Without insurance, bankers won't lend money for horticulture ventures and start-ups.
Overall, $900,000 in state and federal matching money has gone into cooperative marketing efforts in the last two years trying to promote that market.
State agriculture officials have lobbied grocers like Kroger to get more Kentucky produce on the shelves, with labels that stand out. And the agency has granted $2.2 million to value-added farm products like horticulture last year.