Dialing up the pressure
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MH residues continue to be a concern among buyers.” This statement was from Principles of Flue-Cured Tobacco Production, a 301-page book on flue-cured tobacco production written by Bill Collins and S.N. Hawks Jr. in 1993.
Matt Mullen - Editor’s Comments
Though the authors warned farmers more than a decade ago, tobacco buyers continue expressing those same concerns today, and now the pressure is on as never before for growers to keep MH residues down—especially as the importance of the export markets increases.
U.S. government researchers haven’t shown MH to cause any health problems, but several European countries have nevertheless adopted an 80 parts-per-million (ppm) MH tolerance on tobacco products. It’s likely more countries will follow their lead in the future.
Cigarette manufacturers understandably want to comply with the regulations in the countries where they sell their products. Philip Morris International, as one example, sells cigarettes in some 160 countries, and it wants to make sure any U.S. tobacco it uses in its blends conforms to regulations in any country where that tobacco may end up. As a result of these concerns, you will likely be hearing more and more about the importance of reducing residues from Extension and your customers.
For the U.S. grower, the MH “problem” is a marketing issue. As recently as 2004, based on samples collected by the Flue-Cured Stabilization Corporation, some areas of flue-cured production were producing tobaccos with average MH residues well over 100 ppm. If export markets are truly the future for the U.S. grower, they must reduce this number to avoid a negative public perception and comply with customers’ requests.
What’s more, the U.S.’s main competitors, countries such as Brazil and Zimbabwe, don’t use MH extensively because farmers in those countries are able to sucker by hand. Any perception of a MH residue problem in U.S. tobacco may limit its ability to capture share in the global market, say North Carolina tobacco experts.
In addition to possible loss of domestic and export markets, continued overuse of MH could result in future greater use restrictions.
Burley growers don’t have the same issues with MH residues as do flue-cured growers. Changes in production practices, combined with higher application-to-harvest intervals in the crop, have kept average levels of MH well below the 80 ppm levels in burley areas. But some buyers are now seeking MH-free burley.
It would be difficult or even impossible for U.S. growers to abandon MH completely at this time. Luckily, many relatively easy production practices, such as avoiding high pump pressure, can keep residues under levels acceptable to customers. For the most part, it’s now just a matter of implementation.
Neither the U.S. government nor manufacturers have yet issued regulations. But it may be wise to act soon to avoid losing market share to other countries.