Since the 1930s, the federal government played a role in setting market prices, but the buyout ended government’s role in tobacco farming industry.
Jessamine County tobacco farmers Mark Dunn and Carl Waits said the market price hasn’t been kind, especially in 2010, when the late summer drought took its toll on the tobacco crop.
“It was the worst we’ve ever done,” Waits said. “We averaged $1.40 a pound on the whole crop, but we sold a lot of tobacco for 95 cents a pound.”
The main reason for the low rates was the drought, Dunn said.
“To put it mildly, last year was a terrible year,” he said. “The weather was terrible, particularly in August and September. During the harvest, it got really hot; that dry, hot wind was blowing, and it just did not cure the tobacco.”
Dunn and Waits said curing tobacco is heavily dependent on the weather and there needs to be a proper balance of moisture and dryness for tobacco to properly cure.
“Tobacco needs some moisture when it’s hanging in the barn to cure, and it didn’t get any (last) August, September and really October,” Dunn said. “It started raining some in November, and by then, the tobacco had already cured; it kind of dried up instead of curing up.”
That, Dunn said, resulted in a yellow color, which is not desirable by tobacco companies. The tobacco leaves companies are looking for are tannish-brown in color.
Waits said it is a delicate balance.
“If you get too much moisture, it will rot, and if you don’t get enough, it’s not good quality,” he said. “It’s a tricky situation.”
Thus far, the 2011 tobacco season has been slightly above average, Waits said.
“We got some rain at the right time, and it really helped us,” he said. “It was looking kind of bad there at first.”
Waits said his crop should yield about 2,700 pounds per acre, which he is in the process of harvesting and housing in 13 barns in Jessamine County.
“A real good year for us is around 3,000 pounds; a real bad year is 2,000 to 2,500 pounds,” Waits said. “You never want to give up on a tobacco crop, because one good rain, a lot of times, will bring it out.”
With selling season beginning in mid-November, tobacco farmers are hopeful 2011’s crop will fare better than 2010’s. But it all hinges on Mother Nature, and Waits said it was much too soon to tell.
“It’s all weather-depending all the way through; the whole crop is,” Waits said.
Dunn said the future of tobacco raising in Jessamine County is sketchy in light of the revenue farmers are receiving from the federal government ending in 2014.
“That’s really hard to tell; in my opinion, it’s going to depend on two things,” Dunn said. “Number one, as the tobacco grower ages, is it going to be passed down to the next generation? I’m not feeling real good about that.
“The second thing, and probably the big thing, and this is just my opinion, it depends on how well the tobacco company-farmer relationship goes. Right now, I can’t say that it is (a good relationship). We were selling for more than $2 a pound many years ago.”
Dunn said a tobacco grower is doing well to get $1.80 a pound in today’s environment.