Sunday, December 20, 2020



There won't be any scenes like this at the N.C. State Fair Grounds on Feb. 3-5. That's because the 2021 Southern Farm Show--scheduled for those dates--has been cancelled. (Photo taken at the 2020 show by Chris Bickers.) 

Another farm event went down to the Pandemic when the Southern Farm Show for 2021 was canceled because of difficulties complying with COVID regulations. I am going to fill the information gap the cancellation has created by devoting much of the January III issue to reporting on new tobacco machinery, chemistry and any thing else that would have had a had a prominent part at the show fr tobacco farmers. So, manufacturers, if you have something that you think deserves to be brought to the farmers' attention, call me at 919 789 4631. You can include hemp machinery too if you have a good candidate. 

Welcome to the December II, 2020, issue of Tobacco Farmer Newsletter. If you haven't signed on to receive the newsletter regularly, please email your subscription request to TFN at Include phone number and your affiliation with tobacco, such as farmer, buyer, dealer or Extension agent.

What not to do if you are planting new flue-cured varieties: Don’t plant more than a few barns your first year, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist, and don’t plant highly resistant cultivars in the absence of recognized pesticide programs. “Don’t plant into fields that have not been tested for nematodes and treated where appropriate,” Vann says. 

The still-new flue-cured variety NC 1226, which was available to farmers this past season, isn’t immune to black shank, but in tests, it has shown the highest level of black shank resistance across multiple locations. Yield was comparable to K 326. 

Greenhouse season is about to commence in the Deep South, and J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist, advises going back to the basics. “Remember the disease that is the biggest problem in the greenhouse is tobacco mosaic virus,” he says. “Make sure everybody who goes into your greenhouse avoids spreading the disease from the tobacco products they use. And when you start clipping, remember that regularly using a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution to wash the mower will really reduce spread of TMV.” 

Just as I close this issue, I’ve heard a reliable report that Altria will not accept contract deliveries of Georgia flue-cured at the warehouse it has used for many years in Nashville, Ga. Georgia growers can still seek contracts from Altria, but they will have to deliver to a warehouse in North Carolina. This will substantially increase grower costs of transportation and may discourage some from contracting with Altria. Note: I have not been able to confirm all this, so if any reader can provide further details, feel free to do so at the phone number above. 

This is not the first time: An Altria delivery station in Kentucky was closed before the current season. Altria had been accepting deliveries for some time in Elizabethtown but withdrew from that location. Farmers who formerly delivered there are now redirected to Danville, Ky., which can mean an extra two hours in transportation time. 


A tariff on tobacco and sweet potatoes was announced by the European Union at the end of November. It plans to impose a 25 percent tariff. The effect will depend in part on how long tobacco companies think the tariff will remain in place, said Blake Brown, N.C. Extension economist.

A History of Burley Tobacco for the Coming Year 

I am very happy to let you know that I have recently helped write a short history of burley in Kentucky and its neighboring states. I and my co-author Billy Yeargin, tobacco historian and faculty member at Duke University, named the book The Bluegrass and Beyond to signify that white burley first appeared in the Bluegrass but has moved well beyond that area since. The core of the book is an oral history section composed of interviews with 14 burley tobacco growers who have grown the crop long enough to have special insights on burley pro-duction. And Billy has updated his popular essay on the auction marketing system over the history of American tobacco and uses it to end the book. If you would like a copy, the price is $20, plus $8 shipping and handling for those delivered by the US Postal Service (alternate delivery methods can be discussed). To order, write to me--Chris Bickers--at 7413 Six Forks Rd., No. 126, Raleigh NC 27615. Questions? Call me at 919 789 4631 or email me at

Wednesday, December 2, 2020



Prices were way up at the first burley auctions of the year at Farmers Tobacco Warehouse in Danville, Ky. Among those cheered was owner Jerry Rankin (above). File photo by Chris Bickers.

The market opens hot for 2020 burley. Farmers Tobacco Warehouse in Danville, Ky., has held the first two auctions of the season, on November 24 and December 1, and the results were very good at both. Some lots of red tobacco sold at a high price of $1.90 per pound, much higher than last year. About 30 percent of the offerings sold for a strong $1.80 to $1.85.

The reason for the high price is simple—buyers need burley, and there will not be enough to go around. “There is going to be a demand for this crop, and buyers aren't going to get near what they need,” says Jerry Rankin, owner of Farmers. He thinks that burley production in this country will fall between 42 and 45 million pounds, much less than what USDA projected in its report in October, the last of the season. If his assessment is anywhere near the actual total, you can expect intense buyer interest right up to the end of the market.

The sales results might have been better still if all of it had been “new tobacco,” says Rankin. “As it was, 25 to 30 percent of the offerings were carryover which sold for $1.50 to $1.70.”

Many parts of the burley belt suffered low yields because of weather, but Rankin thinks one of the big factors in the small production was that many farmers decided not to plant last spring even though they might well have had the opportunity to contract if they had pursued it. Others planted way short of what they needed to make their contracts.

But there were some new growers. A small but nevertheless significant portion of the farmers at the Danville sales were Amish growers from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and western Kentucky. “A few had never grown burley before this season,” Rankin says.

Another burley auction was delayed: Big Burley Warehouse in Lexington, Ky., was scheduled to open November 24 also but that was delayed till probably December 9, says owner Darby Montgomery. “We haven’t had enough tobacco to conduct a sale,” he says. “Stripping is running behind in this area.”

For further information on either burley warehouse, call Rankin at PH 859 319 1400 or Montgomery at PH 859 233 9944).

Flue-cured auctions came to an end Tuesday with a cleanup sale in Rural Hall, N.C. Dennis White, owner of Old Belt Tobacco warehouse, reported that he was well pleased with the season. “Though the tonnage was short, the prices were a lot better than last year,” he says. “In many cases, prices were within 10 cents of contract.”

For the season, White estimates that leaf at his warehouse averaged $1.85 for B2s, $1.60 to $1.65 for C2s and around $1.30 for X2s. He sold six and one half million pounds from beginning to end.

The big surprise, says White, was the drastically increased price for cut rag, which he said averaged between 65 and 85 cents. "Evidently there is a shortage," he says.

A small amount of burley was brought to the Rural Hall warehouse, and despite the fact that it was in small bales that are not preferred by manufacturers, all of it found a buyer, most of it at $1.65 a pound. Most came from a single Virginia farmer, White says.

The China comeback? White saw evidence that Chinese buyers are planning to return to the U.S. market: Every time he had some lemon leaf (the style traditionally associated with Chinese demand), his regular buyers would compete vigorously for it. “Now who else but the Chinese would they be buying this for?”

Another tobacco warrior moves on: Bill Maksymowicz, the longtime agronomist at Burley Stabilization Corporation died last week. Before he joined the BSC staff, he worked for several years with Vector Corporation and before that, he served on the faculty of the University of Kentucky for 13 years. I believe much of that time was spent on the staff of the Princeton Research Station; anyway, somewhere in there he shared with me substantially all I know now about dark tobacco, which has often proved very valuable for me. I know it's a cliche, but he will be missed. Funeral services will be held December 4 at 3 PM at the Robertson County Funeral Home in Springfield.


Canada--The earliest frost in southern Ontario since 1982 took place on September 19, says Mitchell Richmond, team leader for the Canadian Tobacco Research Foundation. “Almost all tobacco left in the field at that point was lost, with the exception of some localized areas where farmers were able to keep harvesting,” he says. But overall, everything that was harvested was on par for yield and quality, he says.