06/13/06 — Tobacco production rising in Wayne County

View Archive

Tobacco production rising in Wayne County

By Turner Walston
Published in News on June 13, 2006 1:45 PM

Tobacco production in Wayne and surrounding areas is continuing to increase in the second year following the buyout of the federal support program.

With a free market, farmers who chose to stay in the tobacco business have also chosen to increase the number of acres planted. Most farmers now contract directly with tobacco companies to sell their crop.

Rick Tharrington, the executive director of the county's Farm Service Agency office, said he estimates that about 7,900 acres of tobacco have been planted in Wayne this season. Last year, 5,736 acres were grown. In 2004, the final year of the federal support program, the acreage allotted by the government was 4,947.

"We're going to increase in tobacco acreage this year," Tharrington said. "There's money being invested to grow more tobacco."

Overall, North Carolina farmers are estimated to have 143,000 acres of tobacco planted this year, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That is 20,000 more than last year.

Tharrington said that the end of the support system has led production to decrease in Georgia and Florida and increase in North Carolina. Several factors are responsible, he said, but soil type and climate lead the way.

Eastern North Carolina soil is ideally suited to growing tobacco. The length of the growing season and the average amount of rainfall make the region one of the choicest for growing the crop.

"Basically we have the best soil to grow tobacco, almost in the world," said Wayne County extension agent Kevin Johnson.

"This little geographic area right here, Wayne, Wilson, Nash and Johnston County, grows some of the best tobacco in the world. The companies want this. This is their ideal tobacco."

Increased urbanization in counties west of Wayne also has moved production to the Wayne area, Johnson said. Prior to the buyout, Wake County was consistently one of the state's top producers, Johnson said.

"Wake County's under so much urban pressure, that they've actually forced most of the tobacco out of the county," he said. "That tobacco that was once in Wake County and in the Piedmont is moving down east."