Friday, March 22, 2013

The outlook for this season is looking awfully good

A flue-cured grower near Raleigh, N.C., clips his plants.

And that is largely because of strong demand on the foreign market. The outlook could remain positive for some time, says Kirk Wayne, president of Tobacco Associates, the U.S. leaf export promotion organization. "There is a shortage of flavor tobaccos at a time when there is fairly consistent demand. I expect this situation to last for some time." Where Wayne sees the most growth potential for U.S. leaf is Asia. "In China, there is an increasing demand for quality tobacco as the consumer base improves.  In fact, they are buying higher quality consumer products of all types." China is not able to produce the flavor style tobacco they need for quality cigarettes. "That's why they turn to us," he says. "We see similar situations in Indonesia, the Philippines and Viet Nam. Those are countries  where Tobacco Associates is paying close attention."

A new variety that performed very well in demonstrations in 2012 will be planted on about 500 farms this season. CC 143 harks back to K 326 in many characteristics but generally performs better. "It produces better quality, high to very high yields, a bright style of leaf and excellent holding ability," says Sam Baker, Cross Creek vice president. "What's more, it has very high resistance to Granville wilt and both races of black shank." Are seed sales up? Yes, says Baker who expects a three to four percent increase in flue-cured plantings this year in North Carolina and Virginia, the two states where his company does business.

Watch for the April issue of Tobacco Farmer Newsletter on or close to April 1. It will include a full report on USDA's planting projections for this year's crop.

What is happening in other tobacco-producing countries? Several Tobacco Farmer Newsletter readers have written recently with reports on the upcoming crop (in Canada) and the upcoming markets in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

  • Canada: An increase in acreage of about 20 percent appears on the way in southern Ontario. Tobacco farmers are generally quite happy about this. The stretch from 2000 to 2009 was extremely hard on our industry here, and the producers deserve some optimism for a change. It looks like farmers have contracts targeting for about 62.5 million pounds for this crop. The trade was looking for a little more, perhaps 65+ million pounds, so a farmer was able to sign a contract for whatever he wanted to grow, as long he had the barns for it. But barn space was frequently an issue. Prices on used barns have escalated. Barns of the popular line De Cloet Classics (2000 series) are selling for their original purchase price--if you can find them for sale. There isn't a moth-balled yard of curing barns that doesn't have tire tracks around it, regardless of age. 
  • Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe's tobacco quality is good. But production will be greatly reduced due to prolonged moisture stress. I personally have put in seven hectares of dry land tobacco. Not enough significant rains have fallen yet to quench and save the dry land crop from wilting.  
  • Zambia: Marketing will begin March 22. Production of the flue-cured crop should be in the region of about 25 million kilos of flue cured and about the same of burley though these figures are distorted by tobacco smuggled in from Malawi. A very wet January has affected the late flue-cured crop, which was planted in November and December and is planted by small-scale growers. The crop from these plantings has not developed well, and yields of plus or minus 1,500 pounds per acre are expected. Earlier plantings (from mid-August to October) are good to very good quality-wise but yields per hectare are down averaging around 2,800 pounds per acre when the norm should be over 3,500 pounds per acre. Merchants have told growers here that there is an oversupply of mediocre and poor quality tobacco on the world market, and only ripe oily styles will fetch top dollar. Farmers have responded to this and adjusted their growing and curing techniques accordingly. They are producing quality rather than quantity.

A note from the editor: I recently had the chance to renew an old friendship when I ran into Dwight Watson of Gold Rock, N.C. Dwight was famous for the high quality of his tobacco in the Eighties and Nineties. In 2003 he made an ill-fated trip to Washington, D.C., and ended up in legal trouble. That is all history. Now, he has retired from farming and is concerned with the disproportionate number of children of Gulf War veterans who have been born with physical abnormalities. At the time I saw him, he was setting up a foundation called Camp MP Jack to help veteran families with children special needs of this type. If it is successful, he hopes eventually it can help any child with special needs...But he still has tobacco on his mind, and right now he is very worried that the state Attorneys General and the federal lawsuit still being heard by Gladys Judge Kessler could devastate future domestic consumption. "It seems to me that the Attorneys General have sued the tobacco industry for obeying laws they made us obey," he says. Another concern: The presence of dicamba and other contaminants coming in on foreign leaf could be a problem for the American tobacco industry if they show up in manufactured cigarettes. By the way, if contaminants are really a problem, Watson suggests taking a portion of the selling price of cigarettes and using it to pay American farmers to grow tobacco organically.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


At the Long Tobacco Barn production facility in Tarboro, N.C., worker Nelson Robinson assembles a fan housing for a new box barn.

The concern just won't go away that there may not be enough flue-curing barns to meet the needs of growers in 2013. One of the reasons is the apparent rise in value of used barns: In one auction sale in eastern North Carolina last Saturday, used barns that were over 15 years old sold for only a few thousand dollars less than new barns of the same brand and type. That phenomenon has been observed frequently this winter. With the resale value of used box barns so high, it has been suggested that buyers are afraid there won't be enough new barns to go around. Could this be true? I asked four barn manufacturers who have proven reliable observers of this scene in the past for their assessment of the situation:
  • Bob Pope of Long Tobacco Barn Co., Tarboro, N.C., says"We have taken a lot of barn orders already but are not anywhere near our maximum capacity. It's just a matter of scaling up production to meet demand." Long is now completing fabrication of its first run of 2013 barns and will start its second run in mid March. The last run will come off the line beginning in mid May. That probably won't be all. "Based on what some farmers have told us, we expect to start a third run in mid-May, for delivery before the crop lets loose in the field," he says. Pope says the company's production facility (above) is the only one dedicated to manufacturing curing barns and is staffed by the same workforce that has been producing them for many years. You can reach Pope at (252) 908 3442 or bpope@long

  • World Tobacco in Wilson, N.C., is well into its first run and has completed several barns already. "We have capacity to build more than are already on order, but we need to get new orders soon, preferably by March 15," says Eric Scaion, president of World Tobacco. "At some point, barn components that we don't make ourselves may no longer be available for this season." For more information, contact Billy Price at (252) 230-1032 or at wlpricejr@
  • Dale Hutchins at Carolina Tobacco Services in Bennettsville, S.C., says he is not sure he can build many more curing barns by the end of June than the 110 already in the production schedule. He is willing to take orders for later delivery, but that doesn't always work. "I had to turn down one order today because the man had to have the barns on his farm by July 1," he says. Hutchins says he might possibly add another shift. "But I would need to see the demand ramped way up." For more information, contact Hutchins at (843) 479 3804 or at
  • Finally, Ron Taylor of Taylor Manufacturing is frankly 
    doubtful that a shortfall of barns is likely. His company, which has been building barns for a couple of months and is selling more every day, can build a whole lot more if the orders are there. "At one time in the past, we built 15 barns a day, and we still have the same infrastructure and a core group of the individuals that built those barns," he says. "We look forward to this challenge and whatever demands it might make on us." A shortage of components could conceivably occur. "But I talk with my suppliers regularly and they all tell me they are well prepared for any additional demand," Taylor says. He thinks a greater danger is that the price of the raw materials needed for curing barns might increase so much that manufacturer margins would be reduced too low. "It is definitely a supplier's market out there," he says. But this whole discussion is speculative because "there are no credible numbers out there as to what demand is," he says. Contact Taylor at (910) 862 1000 or at

There could still be help from Canada. Tytun Ltd. of Simcoe, Ontario, has made the management decision to sell bulk-curing barns in the United States this year and as of today (Wednesday) has taken orders for 14, with some other orders in the works. "We are looking for a location to build them somewhere in the states," says president Larry Huszczo. "If we have to, we will build them here, but the freight is about $4,500 per barn, so our first choice would be an American facility." One way or another, Tytun will definitely  have barns to sell. You can contact Huszczo (Hooz Cho) at  (519) 428 0044 or at

In other news:
Look for more international trade agreement negotiations in the not so distant future, says U.S. Senator Richard Burr (Republican, N.C.). That could be good for tobacco growers. "We ought to have trade agreements with everyone around the world that we can. The biggest going to be a state like North Carolina, because agriculture is the 800-pound gorilla that the U.S. has to [put into] play in international markets." Burr is also optimistic about the possibility of immigration reform in 2013. "I have great hope that we are going to be able to do something this year [that will be] something that 99 percent of you would agree embraces everything you believe."

Using tobacco in a rotation along with deep tillage has improved control of Palmer's amaranth in research in North Carolina, says Matthew Vann of the N.C. Extension Crop Science department. "It buries the Palmer amaranth seed deep enough where it can't germinate," he says. The findings are part of a three-year study where a rotation of flue-cured, cotton and soybeans are tested with deep and shallow tillage, Spartan Charge and Command herbicides and hand removal of the weeds. Just one year has been completed.

A good season in Pennsylvania: Despite slightly fewer acres, growers of the tobacco types grown in Pennsylvania produced nearly 23 million pounds in 2012, said a newspaper report. That's 11 percent more than in 2011. And it is more than double what was produced in 2005, when deregulation allowed growers to plant burley for the first time. Very good weather was one of the reasons. Burley is averaging $2.05 a pound, reported Lancaster FarmingThat is 10 to 15 cents more than in the past. Half the 2012 production was burley; the rest was Pennsylvania seedleaf, Southern Maryland and a small amount of dark air-cured.