01/01/06 — Bigger farms, fewer farmers predicted in 2006

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Bigger farms, fewer farmers predicted in 2006

By Turner Walston
Published in News on January 1, 2006 2:04 AM

More older farmers may choose to retire in the coming year but the amount of cotton and tobacco grown in Wayne and surrounding counties could increase, said Kevin Johnson, a field crop agent with the state Cooperative Extension Service.

With the second annual payment from the federal tobacco buyout due to arrive this month, many older farmers might be convinced to take the money and call it quits, Johnson said. That would likely mean the same amount of cropland in the hands of fewer farmers.

Those farmers who intend to continue producing tobacco will likely add acreage, Johnson said. The new free market is an incentive to some to increase the amount of tobacco they plan to cultivate. And the market for eastern North Carolina tobacco could swell, he pointed out.

"The farmers staying in tobacco may have more potential for production," Johnson said. "There might not be as many growers, but acreage production could increase."

Wayne is located in the center of the most productive tobacco-growing region in the world, Johnson said. With the buyout lifting restrictions on the amount of tobacco that a farmer can grow, the production areas will likely become more centralized, Johnson said.

"That production area is shrinking, but we're in the center of where they want it. Wayne, Wilson, Greene, Lenoir and Duplin -- those counties should grow in tobacco production," he said.

Cotton production should remain fairly constant, Johnson said. Cotton growers had a good year in 2005 despite less than perfect weather conditions.

"I think the farmers will plant with the same intentions as the past year," he said, describing the cotton outlook.

Soybean production in the past year was a disappointment to many farmers , Johnson said. Bad weather hurt the crop. The average yield per acre was only about 25 bushels, he said.

"I figure a lot of farmers lost some money on soybeans," Johnson said. "But you don't have the investment you have on cotton or tobacco. There was a bunch of rain right before we harvested and it damaged a lot of soybeans."

Johnson said he believes farming in Wayne County has a bright future, even though some of the older hands are getting out of the business.

"We're farming just as much land as we always have, it's just that we've got fewer farmers tending it," he said. "There's a lot of younger farmers out there that are farming with their fathers. And they're the next generation of farmer."

In recent years, the effects of the global marketplace on farming in Wayne County have become more apparent, Johnson said. As the world gets smaller through technology, events thousands of miles away are having an immediate effect on decisions farmers here make.

"Everything is based on the world market now. It's amazing, the past 10 years. Everything is so global now. It's always been that way, but we actually can see it now, at home," Johnson said.