Ontario’s tobacco industry has undergone a dramatic turnaround in a short period of time.

Five years ago, tobacco farms near Tillsonburg and Delhi were expecting the worst as demand plummeted.

The federal government even paid some farmers a total of almost $300 million to close up shop.

But that’s quickly becoming a distant memory. Demand from an unexpected sector has caused an 18 per cent increase in Ontario tobacco production this year alone.

“We’ve doubled (our crop) this year, and next year we’ll probably close to double again,” says Amanda Braun, whose Tillsonburg-area family has been growing tobacco for 80 years.

It’s not Canadians fuelling the increase in tobacco production, as the domestic market has been stagnant for some time.

But that’s not the case in China, where citizens are demanding more and better tobacco.

“The Chinese have put a fair bit of demand pressure on most of the growing regions around the world,” says Fred Neukamm, chair of the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board.

It’s not just the farmers feeling the effects of a rejuvenated market for tobacco.

While most of Ontario’s tobacco farming equipment manufacturers have closed up shop, farms are cautiously dipping a toe back into capital investment – even if they now have to source it from overseas.

“They’re carrying on and the small increases (in equipment imports) are favourable,” says equipment importer Lenny Erdelac.

“The farmers are just looking for stability.”

Across Ontario’s tobacco belt, 243 growers are on track to harvest about 63 million pounds of tobacco from 23,000 acres of farmland this year.