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From Tobacco to Stevia: North Carolina Farmers Alternate Between Trades

From Tobacco to Stevia: North Carolina Farmers Alternate Between Trades

Stevia company, PureCircle, has announced a partnership with North Carolina’s tobacco farmers to plant and harvest their stevia plants. As the demand for stevia is increasing, and the demand for tobacco is decreasing farmers are more open to investing in the zero-calorie sweetener. PureCircle’s StarLeaf stevia strain thrives in similar soil and climate conditions as tobacco, making the transition easy for farmers.

With the consumer market is becoming increasingly interested in low-sugar products, the zero-calorie stevia plant is expected to experience a tremendous growth in sales. With the FDA-mandated nutrition labels – highlighting the amount of sugar added to a product –  expected to come out in the next few years, manufacturers are turning to stevia to support their reduced sugar claims.

Stevia, being both a natural sweetener and 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar, makes this plant a high value ingredient in the food industry. Companies have already started to incorporate stevia into their formulations. Coca Cola recently announced the 2018 launch of a zero-calorie stevia sweetened coke beverage. Stevia was an ingredient in more than 27 percent of new products launched in 2017, a number expected to significantly increase in the next few years.

North Carolina tobacco farmers have the perfect conditions for this project due to considerable infrastructure overlaps. Stevia can be grown in the same soil as tobacco and stevia planting seasons do not overlap with tobacco planting seasons. Some farmers have started rotation crops in order to grow both plants. This is a beneficial technique for multiple reasons but primarily because rotation crops reduce the formation of pathogens in soil and contribute to the soil’s overall fertility. The decrease in tobacco demands are also fueling the stevia growing business.

“We are proud to introduce stevia as a crop in North Carolina.  This program will boost the economic prospects of agriculture in that state by providing a viable alternative to tobacco. We look forward to working together with farmers in expanding stevia production and establishing a North American stevia supply chain for PureCircle,” said James Fox, Vice President of Agricultural Operations at PureCircle.

This negation between PureCircle and farmers has come right on time, as some North Carolina farms have lost their businesses because of the decrease in tobacco sales. In October, North Carolina State Extension predicted sales of tobacco to continue decreasing.

These numbers are indicative of the increasing demand for healthier foods. By substituting tobacco fields with stevia through crop rotation or full replacement, North Carolina’s tobacco farmers are able to use their land to its full potential.