For South Carolina and Georgia, USDA planting figures may be about right, say Extension specialists in those states. "We see farmers getting out and others cutting back," says Dewitt Gooden of South Carolina. "Some fairly significant growers have quit tobacco over the winter. So that estimate (-13 percent) might be close to what we plant." In Georgia and Florida, it is hard to pinpoint, but J. Michael Moore, the specialist for both those states, says, "The NASS estimate is about as good a guess as I can come up with." He noted that the loss of the U.S. Grower Direct contracts [eventually taken over by Alliance One] accounts for much of the lost acreage. "This time a year ago, there were 13 million pounds under contract in these states to that company, and only a few were picked up by other companies."
In Tennessee, a big increase is projected for burley, but that may be misleading, says Extension specialist Paul Denton, because of the extensive abandonment of planted acreage last season. He thinks that the 16,000 acres that NASS projects for state plantings is about what growers meant to harvest last season but weren't able to. Nevertheless, he thinks that a much bigger Volunteer burley crop could be on the way if weather is anywhere near normal and an average level of abandonment occurs. Note: Denton reports that Altria has closed its delivery station in Midway, Tn. (near Greeneville). Some of its customers will now deliver to Danville, Ky., but Denton expects some have signed with Burley Stabilization Corporation, which has a fairly new receiving station in Greeneville, and other buyers with closer delivery stations.
For Virginia, the 35 percent increase projected for burley may be a little misleading also, says Extension specialist Danny Peek. "The 2,700 acres that NASS projects is about right. But the agency has been underestimating our plantings for several years, and it looks like it has made a correction." But southwest Virginia plantings will definitely be up this year, says Peek, perhaps by 10 percent or more, and further increases could be in the cards. "With our burley all grown on good soils now and with good curing weather most years, we should be able to grow premium burley most years," he says. One possible obstacle: Burley operations have not been profitable enough in recent years to justify investment in infrastructure such as barns. "This will catch up with us eventually," he says.