Tuesday, May 3, 2011

TOBACCO FARMER NEWSLETTER May 2, 2011

(Excerpts from the May issue of the email newsletter Tobacco Farmer Newsletter. To receive a full copy of the newsletter regularly, write to chrisbickers@gmail.com. Write "Subscribe" and give the state you live in and your tobacco affiliation.--Chris Bickers)


There have been some developments relating U.S. Growers Direct, but information about the company’s activities is very hard to obtain, as it has since the company first appeared on the tobacco scene in January. But here is what I can glean from the sources I have in this area that are close enough to the developments to have a credible opinion:
            ---The company’s target of 100 million contracted pounds has apparently been reached. I have heard this from three men who ought to know.
            --All USGD contracts have been for flue-cured so far. But there is a possibility that some burley contracts might yet be signed, though at best probably only for a small volume
            --Contracts have been signed in all five flue-cured states. Particular enthusiasm was seen among Georgia and Florida growers. 
            --Most if not all of this tobacco is said to be going to Asian markets but not necessarily directly to China.
            --A new USGD receiving station is being built near Louisburg, N.C. It will be completed in time to receive 2011 leaf and will also eventually be used to distribute other products.
            --The other USGD receiving stations will be in Wilson and Goldsboro, N.C.; Clarksville, VA.; Lake City, S.C., and Douglas, Ga.
            --It is not very informative, but you might find more details at the USGD website. Go to www.usgrowersdirect.com.

Say what you will about U.S. Grower Direct, it is the only thing keeping some farmers in tobacco this year. One of them is Mark Kidd of Ramseur, N.C. “We grew flue-cured for Philip Morris International until 2010, but then they cut us off after the bad crop,” says Kidd, who plans to begin transplanting the first week of May. “USGD committed to us for 60,000 pounds (about 43 planted acres).” So he is grateful USGD is buying leaf in 2011. But he hasn’t heard much from the company and wishes there was a little more communication. “But it’s not much different from PMI in that respect,” he says.

When Tobacco Road turned into Tornado Alley--Tornadoes struck central and eastern North Carolina on April 16, playing havoc with machinery and greenhouses. Steve Thomas’ farm in Sanford was hit hard by a twister that pulled boxes from barns and dropped them a quarter mile away. Thomas told the Sanford Herald that 32 curing barns were lost, as well as numerous trucks, trailers, sprayers and other equipment. But he planned to transplant at the end of April with a borrowed tractor, the Herald said. Statewide, the damage was manageable. “We are off to a good start in spite of the tornadoes,” says Loren Fisher, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. “Some farmers suffered devastating loss, but the effect on our ability to produce a crop was minimal.”

May Crop Report: The “horses are at the gate” for Kentucky burley, but the “race” is going to be delayed at least a little while longer, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. “We have plants ready for setting, but we have had an incredible amount of rain,” he says. “Our soils are very wet, and our fields aren’t ready yet.” He estimated that transplanting will not get going in earnest until the second week of May, about a week behind schedule…In N.C., weather conditions have been good and a significant proportion of the flue-cured crop has been transplanted, says Fisher. “The Old Belt might be a little behind, but it is a situation where they are not where they want to be but they are where they need to be,” he says …In Georgia and Florida, transplanting will be complete by early next week, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Tobacco Extension tobacco specialist. Some tobacco in Florida is close to layby already. In both states, the schedule is close to normal. Contracts from U.S. Growers Direct have brought the Georgia-Florida belt back to life. “The signup has been very high,” says Moore. “The company’s goal was 10 million pounds, I understand, but we may well have had more than that. We should have at least 14,000 acres, which would take us back to the level planted before Philip Morris pulled out.”

After the tornadoes, Cross Creek Seed of Raeford, N.C., re-seeded two of its greenhouses to try to make up for plants lost in the storms. There should be approximately 300 acres of NC 299 and CC 37 transplants, available around the last week of May. “Already about 80 acres have been booked from the houses,” says Sam Baker, vice president of Cross Creek Seed. “We are offering them at a reduced price.” It appears that six or seven greenhouses across the state were knocked down by the tornadoes, he says. “A few more had their tops blown off. But the real damage seems to have come on plants already in the field.” To order plants—and sooner would be better than later--call Sam Baker at 910-904-1888 or 910-217-1630.  Cross Creek Seed has a website: www.crosscreekseed.com.

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