Florida Sun Grown Tobacco Farm Works to Bring Tobacco Growing Back to Florida
by HEATHER MACHOVINA
Florida has an illustrious history of growing the world’s finest cigar tobacco. It began in the 1820s when a Virginian moved to Gadsden County to experiment with tobacco as a market crop. By 1860, more than half of the counties were reported by the state to be growing tobacco. In the 1890s, many Cubans came to Florida to escape the war and blockades, and they established large tobacco farms in Fort Meade. Florida’s tobacco production reached almost 1.5 million pounds annually. Florida cigar tobacco was booming by the 1920s, with more than 25 percent of the United States shade tobacco produced here, continuing through the 1940s. Unfortunately, due to many factors including the invention of the cigarette and high costs of American labor, the cigar industry dwindled each year until the last crop of Florida cigar tobacco was grown in 1977.
Florida Sun Grown Tobacco Farm, located in Clermont, Florida, is bringing back a piece of this renowned history as the only farm in Florida to grow cigar quality tobacco today.
Jeff Borysiewicz, president & founder of Corona Cigar Co., has been successfully building his retail cigar business for over 20 years. He proudly owns four locations in Florida and sells millions of cigars each year. Today, he is also the proud owner of a cigar tobacco farm in Clermont, Florida. But why venture into farming after all these years with a flourishing retail business? “I simply did this to bring back a little piece of history to Florida,” Borysiewicz says.
Since it’s been more than 40 years since the last Florida tobacco crop was grown, it took some digging through historical archives online and a gift book published in 1950 by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to learn the process. After 70 years, the pesticide products mentioned are no longer available, but the detailed tobacco growing process is still the same. The information is out there, it is just historical for Florida tobacco farming, but not any less valuable to Borysiewicz.
“When you look at that tobacco in our field, it doesn’t know what year it is,” he says, “so if that tobacco was able to be grown here 150 years ago, it can grow today.” And that is the mentality with which the Florida Sun Grown team has been living by since the start.
In 2012, Corona Cigar Co. purchased 20 acres in Clermont and began clearing and preparing the land to grow cigar tobacco. It built a tobacco curing barn. In 2013, Borysiewicz chose two Cuban tobacco seed varieties, Corojo ’99 and Criollo ’98, to trial in their test plots because he felt this detail most honored the history. The test crop was grown “wild,” with no pesticides or other additions, to best determine all the pest, disease, and nutrient pressures specific to their field. Grasshoppers, bud worms, and target spot fungus are their main issues. “Every year we zone in on these three pressures and the crop is fantastic,” boasts Borysiewicz, “as long as mother nature cooperates.” In Florida, temperature drops, high winds, hail, and/or too much water will cause a huge detriment. Today, FSG cultivates only Corojo ’99 because Borysiewicz personally prefers its superior flavor.
From seed through curing, every step of the tobacco growing process is performed at the Florida Sun Grown farm. Tobacco seedlings are transplanted in the field after 55 days. The plants are scouted often for any disease or pest issues and harvesting is done by hand only. The overall goal of their crop is to produce leaves that are quality enough to become cigar wrappers; that leaf must be perfect with no holes, discoloration, and good elasticity. At FSG, 30-40% of their crop is used as wrappers, with the rest being used as filler and binder within cigars. All leaves harvested on the farm are dried and cured on site, before shipping out to be made into cigars.
Partnering with the only cigar factory left in Tampa, J.C. Newman Cigar Co., Florida Sun Grown was able to bring Florida cigar tobacco back to consumers through the cigar brand, The American. Launched by J.C. Newman Cigar Co., The American uses FSG tobacco wrappers and filler tobacco from farms in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. These specialty, limited cigars are hand rolled in the historic El Reloj factory in Tampa, with only 200 made per day, making them 100% American made and a highly sought-after delight among retail customers. “We wanted to bring back that piece of lost history and the only reason I am able to do it is because I’m a retailer, with big retail stores that sell a ton of cigars,” Borysiewicz explains.
Borysiewicz is often asked whether this is a viable crop for farmers and agriculture in Florida, and unfortunately the answer is no. Cigar tobacco must be hand harvested and cannot be mechanized, so there is no profit to be made due to high labor costs. He didn’t get into growing cigar tobacco as a profitable agricultural product. Instead, he provides his customers with the unique experience and taste of Florida grown tobacco and 100% American pride.
Join the Annual Florida Barn Smoker event to see the Florida cigar tobacco process from seed to ash at the FSG Clermont farm! The event is limited to 600 guests, who enjoy a farm tour, help plant a row of tobacco seedlings, and learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly that FSG has experienced in its seven years of experience. The event is usually held in the spring, but this year it has been rescheduled for November 14,.
The first test crop in 2013 planted at the Florida Sun Grown farm in Clermont, FL.