Unless otherwise indicated, the reference for this section is the Industry Commission's report on the tobacco growing and manufacturing industries.(34)
Tobacco is grown in more than 120 countries. China is the largest producer, accounting for around 40% of world production in 1991, followed by the US, which accounted for around 10%. By comparison, Australia is a small producer, accounting for 0.2% of world production. All Australian grown leaf is sold locally.
Tobacco farming dates back to Australia's early years of settlement. Governor Macquarie experimented with the crop at Emu Plains in New South Wales in 1818, and by the 1820s it was being cultivated by farmers in the Hunter Valley. Tobacco was first grown in Victoria and Queensland in the 1850s. It is probable that a good deal of the early planting was intended to supply the colony with the makings of sheep dip, nicotine being used as a pesticide.(119)
In 1993 the tobacco growing industry supported around 600 growers in Australia. About 60% of the crop is produced in Queensland, 36% in Victoria, and 4% in New South Wales. Tobacco farming is labour and capital intensive. In 1990, on-farm employment accounted for around 1,600 jobs, including the owner operator and family. A total of almost $300 million is invested on-farm in tobacco growing in Australia.(120)
Tobacco farming requires sandy, well drained soil, uniform warmth during growth periods, high humidity, and frost free conditions. The plant has high water requirements and most cultivation is assisted by irrigation.
Ripe leaves are harvested by hand, which allows them to be laid straight, a requirement of the Australian manufacturers. (In some other countries, including the United States, mechanical harvesters are used). Because leaves ripen from the bottom of the plant upwards, harvesting takes place over about ten weeks, each plant being reaped several times. Following picking, the leaf is cured. Curing is the controlled drying of the leaves, which enhances the texture, colour and aromatic characteristics of the tobacco. All leaf grown in Australia is flue-cured. Once cured, the leaf is baled and sorted for sale.
In 1993, 96% of the crop was used for cigarettes and the remainder was used for pipe or roll-your-own tobaccos.