April 15, 2005 | By: Laura Skillman
PRINCETON, Ky.

Tobacco farmers across the commonwealth intend to grow less burley tobacco in 2005, the first year of production without a federal program, but how much less is unclear.

Planting intentions released March 31 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that Kentucky burley acreage will be down 31percent in 2005. However, Will Snell, a tobacco economist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, and county Extension agents say more farmers have decided to grow tobacco than originally thought March 1 when the USDA estimates were made. Between March 1 and April 1, several farmers who had been sitting on the fence have decided to grow in 2005. 

Production changes are the result of the tobacco quota buyout of 2004, which eliminated price supports and production controls. Today, farmers are free to grow any amount they choose, wherever they choose, primarily under contract with a tobacco manufacturer. 

Burley growers are opting not to grow this year for a variety of reasons. Some have retired. Some were only growing until a buyout was finalized. Others are not growing because their anticipated yields aren’t adequate to be competitive and still others because the price incentives offered by tobacco manufacturers are not attractive enough to remain in business, Snell said.

While planted acreage may eventually be down 25 percent or so, production will not be down as much, Snell said, as yields are expected to improve as only the more efficient growers remain in business. 

“I definitely think eastern Kentucky will lose production and the bluegrass area is also likely to decline. On a percentage basis we will likely see a greater share of Kentucky’s burley tobacco production shifting to the central and Midwestern part of the state,” he said. 

Without quotas, production levels are hard to get a firm handle on, said Gary Tilghman, Barren County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. In Barren County, traditionally one of the top burley producing counties in the state, production may be somewhat less but between March 1 and April 1, many producers signed contracts, he said.

With some people quitting, production may be down in the county but Tilghman said people who grow tobacco plants say their orders for this year equal or surpass last year’s requests. Not many are likely to expand but what they are trying to do is use their available barn space and labor, he said.

Growers in Breckinridge County are expected to expand as are growers in Christian County.

Snell said some producers are looking to expand because of their yield potential, they may be younger full-time farmers who are already comfortable with contracting and they have a labor plan.

In Breckinridge County, estimates are that production will go from about 3.6 million pounds of burley to 4 million or more. 

To be successful, tobacco production specialists said growers will need to have ready access to barns and land, average at least 2,300 pounds of tobacco per acre and produce quality leaf. Breckinridge County producers have many of those traits, said Carol Hinton, Breckinridge County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

Farmers in the county consistently have raised all the pounds they could under the former allotment system and consistently average 2,500 pounds per acre, she said. Infrastructure needed for tobacco production, including barns and the ability to seed plants, is in place.

Acreage reductions through the old tobacco program caused farmers to reduce their production capability, and many are returning to levels they produced in the late 1990s, she said.

Some growers are expanding in the county, while others plan to continue at the same levels that they grew in 2004 and see how things work out this year, Hinton said. Many of the county’s producers either leased or sharecropped.

“They feel like they are going to be just as well off since they aren’t paying rent or growing on shares,” she said.

While burley acreage makes up the bulk of tobacco produced in the state and is expected to be down, this is not the only tobacco produced in Kentucky. Dark acreage is expected to be higher in response to growing demand and price incentives offered by the companies.

Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278

Contact: 

Contacts: Will Snell, 859-257-7288
Gary Tilghman, 270-651-3818
Carol Hinton, 270-756-2182