Local News

Fewer Farmers Growing Tobacco After Buyout

Posted August 10, 2005 6:15 a.m. EDT

— The tobacco buyout put an end to government price supports and growing restrictions. Though it may seem as though more tobacco is being planted this year, the reality is fewer farmers are growing more.

Ronald Stainback is one of the few tobacco farmers left in Vance County. He says many growers retired after the buyout -- and for good reason.

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    North Carolina Dept of Agriculture & Consumer Services

  • "They couldn't see where they could buy new equipment or update to raise a larger crop of tobacco to make it profitable," Stainback said.

    In fact, Vance County's farm service agency says tobacco plantings dropped 59 percent in 2005.

    But Stainback is actually growing about 15 extra acres of tobacco than in past years.

    Experts say tobacco farmers of the future must plant more to survive.

    "If the more efficient producer is able to produce tobacco and make a profit at what these companies are offering, they are the ones that will stay in business," said Bob Murphy, of the N.C. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Statistics Division.

    Stainback, however, is not convinced more is enough. He points to the fact that farmers have contracts with cigarette makers that pay up to $1.45 per pound for tobacco -- nearly 50 cents a pound less than in 2004.

    And then there are rising production costs. Labor costs add up when workers return to the fields to prune the tobacco plants to keep them healthy. Other unforeseen costs include fuel and irrigation.

    "I figure it has cost us $250 per acre," Stainback said. "That's $50,000 that was put into this crop just to water it."

    And of course there's manual labor and rising gas costs.

    Stainback just hopes that when it all adds up, it does not force more tobacco farmers out of the business for good.

    Although overall production of flue-cured and burley is down in North Carolina, the numbers are much better than other states. North Carolina had a 14 percent drop from 2004. In Kentucky, the number more than doubles for burley tobacco. In Virginia, overall production is down 36 percent.