Augusta Free Press

Tobacco remains a top Virginia crop

Virginia flue-cured tobacco production has rebounded from a decade ago, when the generations-old auction system and federal tobacco quotas ended.

In 2005 only about 30,000 acres of flue-cured tobacco was harvested in the Old Dominion, and the crop brought less than $50 million. In 2014 production increased to about 58.8 million pounds of tobacco raised on 23,500 acres, with a value of $121.6 million.

“Right where we are in Mecklenburg County, in the last year of the quota they grew 2,800 acres,” said Jim Jennings, Mecklenburg County Farm Bureau president and a flue-cured tobacco grower. “This year it’s about 4,000 acres.”

Tobacco farming in Virginia “is alive and well. It’s flourishing, and people do really well with it,” Jennings said. “You’ve got more options now with the quota gone. You can use a stronger rotation and be able to use more land opportunities in your area.”

The 2015 crop will be smaller, however, according to officials with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Lower demand on the world market for U.S. leaf has translated to 13 percent less acreage planted this year.

“The current system of growing and raising tobacco is strictly contract,” Jennings said. “You contract with either a tobacco manufacturer or a leaf dealer. You deliver to one of their receiving stations. It’s not like in the old system where there was an auction where you took your tobacco … and you had a group of buyers who came along and it was auctioned off and they bid on it.” Today growers have a better idea of what their income will be each year.

“You know how many pounds you’re going to grow. You know what (buyers’) grading scale is. You know what the prices are for the grading scale that they have,” Jennings said.

He noted that, while the current system makes selling tobacco easier, the standards are much higher than before.

Tobacco is Virginia’s 10th largest agricultural commodity in terms of cash receipts.