Smoking Zucchini—Introducing Commercial Vegetable in Tobacco Country

in HortScience
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  • 1 Dept. of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, N-318 Ag. Science North, Univ. of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40546-0091

“We are a tobacco state” is frequently heard among farmers and agricultural leaders in Kentucky; the state's farm economy has always revolved around burley tobacco production. Tobacco, grown in Kentucky for nearly two centuries, remains the most valuable crop earning approximately $694 million in 1995. Even our unusual terminology of “alternative,” “supplemental,” or “opportunity” crops denotes the prime position of tobacco and attitudes toward vegetable crop production. This long tradition and attitudes associated with it contribute to a serious lack of confidence and low expectations when it comes to diversification with vegetable crops. These low expectations and the consequent circular pattern of experience with vegetable production were revealed in a multidisciplinary, 5-year research project designed to determine opportunities for and constraints to vegetable production in the state. The study showed that nearly half of Kentucky's commercial vegetable growers also were tobacco growers and that there were no fundamental incompatibilities in tobacco–vegetable cropping systems. Although farmers considered lack of markets a major constraint, economic research revealed that growers were often unwilling to use and take the risks associated with existing market structures and channels. As a result of these findings, a major on-farm demonstration program was implemented to raise expectations and break the “circular syndrome”. More recently, new partnerships and collaborative relationships have been established between university horticulture and marketing specialists and the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association for the promotion of “supplemental crops” among Kentucky's tobacco growers.

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