Tobacco In Amish Country

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Lancaster tobacco broker Geoffrey H. Ranck has made a livelihood in dealing with the Amish. Nothing would make his career in tobacco more complete than to rejuvenate thefarmers' enthusiasm for Pennsylvania tobacco by returning the local broadleaf to its earlier prominence.

Ranck is president and owner of the Domestic Tobacco Co., a company formerly known as A.K. Mann, dating back more than a century. Ranck is related to the Mann family through a marriage generations ago. He bought the company from the Mann family estate in 1989. Domestic is a broker for tens of thousands of pounds of Amish-grown tobacco and also produces the Amish brand cigar, which retails for about 70 cents a cigar.

Looking to capitalize on the growing demand for a better smoke, Ranck last year launched a new, high-quality handmade cigar--The Presidents Private Stock--using Pennsylvania tobacco for its long filler and wrapper. Domestic's Presidents Private Stock, which sells for about $3 a cigar, is manufactured in Honduras, but Ranck says its flavor and character is pure Pennsylvania. "I know once people can see and taste it, they are going to want [that tobacco] in more of their cigars," he says. Ranck has spent a good part of the last year escorting shipments of Pennsylvania tobacco to a factory in DanlĂ­, Honduras, to oversee the skilled hand rollers turning out his hope for the future.

A world away, on the patchwork of tobacco acreage that every summer transforms the Lancaster landscape into a quilt of green, Amish farmers like Chris Stoltzfus continue to toil, loyal to tradition but intrigued increasingly by the prospect of change.

Tom Lowry covers Wall Street for USA TODAY. He is a native Pennsylvanian.

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