July 8, 2005 | By: Laura Skillman
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky.

In today’s uncertain times, tobacco growers need all the advantages they can garner to compete. A new program of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is providing the tools to help growers maintain that competitive edge.

The Innovative Tobacco Growers Program is taking place in three locations in Kentucky this year – Russell, Hardin and Fayette counties. It consists of six, three-hour trainings covering all aspects of tobacco production. The classes are using video conferencing technology that allows specialists in Lexington to interact with participants at all three locations.

“My wife and I have really enjoyed it,” said Terry Sullivan, Russell County tobacco farmer. “We’ve gotten a lot of new and good information that we can use.”

The program was just a seed of an idea a little more than a year ago, said Raymond Thompson, Russell County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. The idea was the brainchild of Thompson and Chris Pierce, with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System in Somerset. Their concerns were about the future of tobacco growers being able to survive the lower contract prices and more strict production and processing requirements. They recognized that yields must increase in order for the average grower to sustain profitability. 

With today’s new marketing and pricing structures, producers must increase yields and have good quality, Thompson said. In addition, contracts were calling for them to add management practices they had not typically embraced.

“Our producers know they are not getting the results they used to, but they don’t know why,” Thompson said. “We needed to get more in-depth information into the hands of producers when they really needed it. Producers really appreciate it and have been faithful to attending.”

UK Tobacco Specialist Bob Pearce said while there have been a few technical glitches the program has worked well. The College of Agriculture is adding additional video conferencing sites around the state that will make this type of programming easier to facilitate, he said. 

“We are pleased with the response from the growers,” he said. “It’s a lot of commitment on their part.”

While face-to-face meetings are still important and have been a part of this program along with the video conference, being able to use the technology to reach a broader audience helps utilize specialists efficiently, Pearce said.

Rod Grusy, Hardin County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said today’s producers understand that budgets are tight and that technology, like tobacco production, is changing and making video conference programming easier and more accessible.
“The whole idea is to provide more information than can be done during a typical county program that often lasts 45 minutes to an hour,” Pearce said. “It is very difficult to schedule specialists for multiple sessions at individual locations, so the video technology allows us to conduct an intensive program at several locations simultaneously.”

Margins are much tighter in today’s tobacco economy. In order to survive, farmers have to be better managers. This program is designed to help them, do that, he said.

“For those committed to tobacco production, we are trying to bring them up to competitive levels at the present pricing structure,” Pearce said. “We have tried to have the information in their hands at the time of year it’s relevant to them.”

Hardin County producer Fern Grey said she’s grown tobacco along with her husband for 38 years but never really thought about some of the things she learned through the class, such as depth of transplanting and soil depth. This knowledge is particularly important now, she noted.

“You have to do it right to get the proper yield,” she said. 

This year’s program will conclude Aug. 11 with a field day for participants at UK’s Spindletop Farm, where harvesting and curing will be discussed. Pearce said there are plans to continue the program this fall and winter with a new set of participants and different locations.

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

Contact: 

Contact: Raymond Thompson, 270-866-4477
Bob Pearce, 859-256-5110
Rod Grusy, 270-765-4121