Tobacco earnings at $49M for 2017

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Wilson County could have a gross income of $49.2 million from tobacco this year.

That is up drastically from the $37.2 million in earnings in 2016.

“Overall, we had the year that we needed to have,” said Norman Harrell, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County.

“We had a slightly above-average year in tobacco this year,” Harrell said. “My yield estimates for Wilson County are around 2,519 pounds of tobacco per acre, which is OK in yield, but the really great thing was we had a really high-quality crop.”

Harrell’s estimated average price was $1.99 per pound.

“Farmers were able to sell their tobacco this year,” Harrell said. “They seem to be satisfied, and the buying companies seem to be really satisfied with the crop that we presented them this year.”

Tobacco farmers planted 9,818 acres of tobacco in 2017, which is more than the 8,522 acres of tobacco in 2016.

The yield from 2016 was 8,522, which not far behind the yield in 2017.

“The yield might be somewhat comparable, but the quality from last year, in fact, the quality from the last two years has not been anywhere near as good as what we had this year,” Harrell said. “That’s helped our overall impact.”

According to Harrell, after two difficult years in tobacco in 2015 and 2016, the 2017 crop will help growers recover somewhat.

“It’s really just helping even things out,” Harrell said. “For all purposes, tobacco took it on the chin last year. So this is needed to rebound from the last two. I interpret the acreage change is due to growers’ rotation changing, as many tend land in more than one county.”

Harrell said that timely rainfall was one big factor comparing ’16 to ’17.

“Also, we were not as hot this summer, and there was more disease pressure last year,” Harrell said.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew had minimal effects on tobacco and corn — as most was out of the field when it hit, Harrell said.

“The crop that received the most damage was cotton, causing some bolls to hard-lock and others that had opened for the lint to fall out,” Harrell said. “Matthew caused a lot of problems for farms in regards to damages to paths, soil erosion, etc. Farmers worked hard during the winter to make those repairs to have the big rain hit in April that redid some of that damage.”

In 2017, a major rain and flooding event in April caused a lot of management issues growers had to work through.

“They lost at least a week’s work of not being able to get into the fields,” Harrell said. “We had fertilizer losses and replant decisions in corn and tobacco that growers had to make. These management issues added extra expense to this year’s crop. A great example of having a well-made plan for the farmer but having to work with what Mother Nature gives you.”

At Thursday’s Tobacco Day event attended by 250 tobacco growers and industry figures, North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said tobacco is still a very important part of the agriculture picture in the state.

“We are right at a billion in farm gate receipts growing tobacco in North Carolina,” Troxler said. “It’s still our No. 1 export crop.”

“We’ve been through two really bad years before this weather-wise and the dollar being so strong against currencies in the world making it difficult to export tobacco, so some of that’s changed, and we didn’t have a Hurricane Matthew this year.”

Troxler described high-quality tobacco as “our trademark.”

“We’ve done it for years,” Troxler said. “We’ve all been through the tobacco wars, and we are still standing and still growing tobacco. I think we can become even more competitive in the world. It’s been a much better year and I remain optimistic about this industry for the future.”