Tuesday, September 1, 2015


What is this crop worth: George Hunt (center) of the buying company Tobacco Rag Processors (TRP) questions a particular lot of flue-cured that was on sale at the Big M warehouse on August 19. Consulting with Hunt are Barry Garner (left) of TRP and Merion Haskins, a TRP contract buyer.

The opening day offerings on August 25 at the Old Belt Tobacco Sales warehouse in Rural Hall, N.C., were all dry weather lugs with no body, says warehouse owner Dennis White. "The five buyers we had didn't put any in number one grades," he says. "But I think we did as good as the receiving stations." The best tobacco brought $1.35 to $1.40, while fourth grade tobacco brought $1 to $1.10 and fifth grades 50 cents to 65 cents. "I was satisfied," he says. Very few bids were rejected, White says. White is optimistic about the next round of leaf. "We have had some rain in the Piedmont since the lugs went into the barn." He sold 160,000 pounds at the sale and expects to sell more at his second sale today.

Two sales a week in Wilson: Big M warehouse in Wilson, N.C., has started selling on Monday as well as Weednesday, says owner Mann Mullen. Sales have gone well so far. "We had fair prices, given the low demand for dry weather lugs of any types," he says. A few number ones and number twos sold well.

Several farmers have expressed concern to TFN that Swiss Organic Tobacco, the new company buying organic tobacco in the states, has not yet begun accepting deliveries of the tobacco it contracted with them. Son Butler, a spokesman for the company, told TFN that he is confident that the station will open no later than early next week (the week beginning with Labor Day) and perhaps earlier. He insisted that the relatively late opening will not prevent the full delivery of the company's purchase.

Less than half the Georgia crop has been marketed so far, and the best is still in the field, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist. "We have sold part of the first harvest and a little of the second," he says. "There has been a quality problem in the lower stalk, and we have very seldom seen number one grades." But the price at receiving stations is creeping up to $2.05. "We could use some rain now to help ripen the crop."

Flue-cured is flourishing in the N.C. Piedmont. Grower Stanley Smith of King, N.C., says there were some rough moments earlier, especially four straight weeks with very little rain. "But now, the crop is good," he says. The quality will be above average, Smith thinks. "But we will have to see what the market is demanding. I have heard that the companies are grading awful strict."

The balance of burley supply and demand is better now thanks to the weather this season, says Will Snell, Kentucky Extension ag economist. "The 2015 U.S. burley crop was projected [in the recent USDA crop report] at 157.3 million pounds (-26 percent), with Kentucky's estimate forecast to total 117.8 million pounds (-28 percent).  Beltwide, acres are down 18 percent, while the average U.S. burley yield is off 11 percent." This much smaller crop may be more in line with--or perhaps even below--anticipated U.S. burley needs in the current demand environment, he says.

In Tennessee, the rain started up again in August and interfered with harvest on the burley farm of Tony Hutson of Bell Buckle, 50 miles south of Nashville. "I have been spearing and hanging this week," he said on August 20. "But I couldn't wilt it because of the rain. I had to hang it green to keep the mud off." Marketing is uncertain because he didn't contract this year. "I have been selling my tobacco at the [Farmers Warehouse] auction in Danville, Ky." It has worked out reasonably well. "I sold last year at the third-from-last sale. I averaged $1.80 a pound," he said.

Dark fire-cured harvest is progressing well in Appomattox County, Va., says Bruce Jones, Extension tobacco agent. But there are still some dry sections in the county that need rain. "Most areas received a little rainfall [recently] but it was very spotty," Jones says. "Some areas only received a few tenths of an inch."

Dewitt Gooden
Editor's Note: Tobacco has lost two old friends. Earlier this summer, Dewitt Gooden, the longtime tobacco Extension specialist in South Carolina, died in Florence.He had a long career and was still trying hard in his Seventies to meet the informational needs of the state's farmers. He was known among agricultural journalists as a very resourceful specialist who could always find a way to make our stories come alive. I remember the first time I met him: I think it was in 1974. I was working my way through the University of Georgia writing press releases for the College of Agriculture, and I was assigned to interview a fellow named Gooden who had been (if I remember correctly) hired to be a soybean specialist in Statesboro. The interview was scheduled to last 20 minutes, but he had so many fascinating things to say that I think we talked for two hours. I remember thinking, "This is the 'countriest' man I have ever met in Extension, and that's saying something."  He will be missed, by many others besides me.

I met Robert Shipley of Vilas, N.C., in the Eighties when he came to Raleigh to 
Robert Shipley
speak to the leadership of the Tobacco Growers Association of N.C., for which I was doing publicity. It was the start of a very valuable relationship for me, as over the years he could always tell me the mountain burley context of any tobacco question. And he was damned good company. For many years he was a vocational agriculture teacher in Watauga County, and he was also a successful cattleman, but what I always remember is his long tenure representing North Carolina on the board of the Burley Stabilization Corporation, then in Knoxville, Tn. To say that he had a long and full life would be an understatement: On August 8, when he was 103, he came out in a pasture on his home farm and helped his son and grandson unveil their new steroid-free, antibiotic-free, pasture-based beef herd. A week later, he passed on. It was hard to feel sorrowful for a man who did as many things for others as he did. I just hope people have as good an opinion of me when I am gone as they have of Bob.

Chris Bickers / 903-9 Shellbrook Ct. / Raleigh NC 27609 / 919 789 4631 / chrisbickers@gmail.com

How burley bloomed in the Blue Ridge
For an easy-to-read account of how burley came to east Tennessee and western North Carolina in the late 1800s, along with oral history interviews with some of the best of the older generation burley farmers, and much more, order The History of Burley Tobacco in East Tennessee & Western North Carolina by Billy Yeargin and Christopher Bickers. Send a check for $25 to Chris Bickers, 903-9 Shellbrook Ct., Raleigh, N.C. 27609. Questions? You can contact Bickers via email at chrisbickers@ gmail.com or by phone at 919 789 4631.


1723 Goldsboro St. SW, Wilson, N.C., 
in the old Liberty Warehouse
Greg Goins is the auctioneer at Big M Warehouse.
We hold sealed bid auctions
We promise 
We will be GAP certified 
For more information, contact Mann Mullen at 919-496-9033 
or the warehouse switchboard at 252-206-1447.

Bigger is better

Best of the Piedmont


209 Harding St., Danville, Ky.
PH: 859-236-4932

Full-service burley warehouse

Jerry Rankin, Owner

  Call for information.


  1. Oh yes! We did get a lot of rain here in Tn!

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