The Attitudes of Tobacco Farmers Change with the Times

From 1995 to 1996, researchers at the Center for Sustainable Systems Inc., Berea, Ky., assessed the opinions of both tobacco farmers and members of the general public concerning the current debate about tobacco policy options.

These grants supported a survey of 1,000 tobacco growers in the five major growing states and 500 persons drawn from the public at random.

The study addressed the following major areas:

  • Farmers' awareness of and attitudes toward pursuing other on-farm activities.
  • Perceived barriers toward diversification.
  • Extent of farmers' political involvement.
  • The general public's viewpoints on government subsidies to farmers.

Key Findings

  • Despite the fact that over 80 percent of the entire farmer population surveyed had very strong familial ties to tobacco, the new generation of tobacco farmers are more likely to support diversification education and efforts than their fathers and grandfathers.
  • Farmers cited certain concerns when asked to identify potential barriers to supplementing tobacco income with other farming activities:
    • Lack of appropriate processing facilities.
    • Lack of capital.
    • Lack of marketplace for other crops.
    • Lack of low-interest loans for such efforts.
    • Lack of non-tobacco-farming skills.
  • The researchers found a direct relationship between farmers' educational level and their level of interest in and understanding of diversification: 70 percent of farmers with more than a high school diploma had made an effort to learn about on-farm alternatives or supplements to tobacco, and over 60 percent had been successful.
  • Of the growers surveyed, 37 percent reported depending on tobacco income for more than half of their net family income; 69 percent received at least 25 percent of their family income from tobacco.
  • Most farmers surveyed believed that tobacco companies had farmers' interests in mind and expressed their conviction that what was best for tobacco companies was also best for farmers.
  • Of those surveyed from the general public, 75 percent believed the U.S. government should not subsidize tobacco farmers.