Sunday, May 15, 2011

Phillip Morris makes a tobacco comeback in Georgia:

Phillip Morris USA signed contracts with a number of Type 14 tobacco growers this year after signing no new contracts in 2010. The tobacco, all flue-cured, will be delivered to a buying station in Moultrie, Ga. The contract price will reportedly be 10 cents less per pound than that for other PMUSA growers. There is no report now as to how many new pounds have been committed to PMUSA, but J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist, said the new company U.S. Growers Direct has contracted for as much as 15 million pounds. Moore is holding to his earlier estimate (see May Crop Report below, May 2) of Georgia/Florida of plantings at 14,000 acres, which would be 2,000 acres more than last year and about 5,000 acres more than had been expected from this crop before the two companies made these moves. "Growers were very much ready to use their barns, equipment, land and know-how, and [they] jumped on the contracts," Moore said.

For more information, go to

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A response to "Another level of oversight for farmers who hire migrant workers?"

A spokesman for Reynolds American Inc wrote with reservations about some of the phrasing in the story I wrote yesterday on a possible industrywide council on farm worker conditions. It follows:

To the editor:

RAI, or Dan Delen for that matter, did not propose the formation of the council. That was a recommendation in the Oxfam report [for a summary of the report, go to]. What was announced at the annual [RAI] shareholder meeting was that RAI was prepared to participate actively in such an endeavor which brings together all of the affected stakeholders. Of course, one of those stakeholders is the grower associations. We believe that making significant progress on improving the work environment for U.S. farm workers can best be achieved by taking this broader view of the situation. The complex issues surrounding agricultural labor can only be significantly enhanced if the perspectives of all stakeholders are reflected.

David Howard

The editor responds: I'm sorry, but I don't see the distinction here. Mr. Delen brought this concept to the attention of the public, but he says he did not intend it as a proposal? Well, maybe suggestion would have  been closer to what he meant to convey but I feel like my report is a fair summation of how this concept will resonate for the grower. Delen's comments were not available in written form at the time I wrote the story--if they become available later, I will share them with you. May I say here that I am very concerned that the concept could result in a great loss of bargaining power on the part of growers in the debate over who will regulate the employment of migrant workers.

Chris Bickers, Editor    

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Another level of oversight for farmers who hire migrant workers?

You could be burdened with another level of oversight in your management of migrant workers if a concept advanced by Reynolds American (RAI) finds favor. The new president and CEO of RAI, Daniel Delen, proposed the formation of a council to investigate farm worker conditions when he spoke at the company's annual shareholder meeting on May 6. I talked to a spokesman for the company today (May 10), and he told me the panel as proposed would include manufacturers, growers, the N.C. Labor Department, agricultural scientists, farm workers and their representatives such as the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and perhaps others. "Formation of such a council, when properly constituted, might well make a significant contribution to the improvement of worker safety and living conditions on the farms," said Delen. [Editor's note: Let's hope our grower associations get involved in this debate pronto. It looks to me like a backdoor attempt to give quasi-unions undefended access to your operation.]  In a related development, he also announced that RAI will seek an independent, third-party monitor to assess the working conditions of workers at the tobacco farms RJRT contracts with, said RJRT spokesman David Howard. The monitoring will involve on-farm visits and will probably take place this season.The Winston-Salem Journal reported that Delen repeated RJRT's stance that "it is not the company's role to negotiate on behalf of non-Reynolds workers...Delen, who took over as chief executive and president of Reynolds in March, said, 'We believe no company has done more than R.J. Reynolds to promote farm-worker safety and improved working conditions on tobacco farms in North Carolina and beyond.' "

In other news:

         --A website to help farmers predict flights of tobacco thrips and to suppress tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) is now available fromN.C.State University. The TSWV and Thrips Exposure Tool for Tobaccouses temperature and precipitation data to predict the timing of thrips flight and provides recommendations based on transplant dates, says Hannah Burrack, N.C. Extension entomologist. Actigard treatments timed to thrips flights lower TSWV incidence, she says. For now, she recommends the website for use only in N.C. The website is located
               --Cigarette manufacturer Commonwealth Brands has canceled plans to move from Bowling Green, Ky., to Goodlettsville, Tn. It will instead relocate to Fort Lauderdale, Fl., where its operations will be integrated with those of cigar maker Altadis USA, already headquartered there. Both companies are owned by Imperial Tobacco.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

ALERT: Imidacloprid contamination problem contained in S.C.

Contaminated imidacloprid damaged plants in a few greenhouses and one field in South Carolina, says Dewitt Gooden, S.C. Extension tobacco specialist. The chemical, a generic form of Admire, was apparently all in one batch, and a stop order has been placed on it. Gooden thinks the problem has been contained.


(Excerpts from the May issue of the email newsletter Tobacco Farmer Newsletter. To receive a full copy of the newsletter regularly, write to 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

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: