A Positive Change for Agriculture: Stevia Could Replace Tobacco

While there’s much to be concerned about in the agricultural industry, such as widespread planting of GMO crops, there’s some good news we’d like to share with you.  

What used to be tobacco farms are undergoing a transformation to a much healthier crop – stevia, a natural sugar substitute.

This zero-calorie sweetener is giving farmers a new crop as demand for tobacco dwindles in the US. Stevia and tobacco require similar growing conditions and are also harvested in the same way – the leaves are picked and then dried.


And stevia is a growing business, expected to take a 33% (about $20 billion) market share of the world’s sweetener market, according to the World Health Organization.

Stevia is being used today by many food manufacturers that are responding to citizen demands to get sugar out of products. Coca-Cola and Pepsi use it to cut calories in many beverages and it’s in Smucker’s jams, Crystal Light drink mixes and ice cream. 

A member of the sunflower family, stevia is an herb that’s 200-300 times sweeter than sugar – just a tiny amount is needed for sweeteners. Indigenous population in its native Paraguay have grown it for over 1,500 years and it’s been used in Japan for sweetening for decades. Now, it’s grown mostly in South American and China.

Sweet Green Fields is the largest supplier of US-grown Stevia and recently started sourcing production in the southeast. "As the global demand for Stevia grows, concerns arise with regard to country of origin (80% currently produced in China), capacity of supply, traceability, and quality/purity of the end product," says Hal Teegarden, Vice President of Agricultural Operations at Sweet Green Fields.

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