Number of N.C. tobacco farmers drop; farm size grows

The Associated Press

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WAKE FOREST (AP) – The number of tobacco farms in North Carolina is shrinking, but the growers who remain are planting more crops.

There were 1,682 tobacco farms in North Carolina in 2012. Ten years ago, there were nearly 8,000 tobacco farms in the state, according to the census of agriculture from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A lot of farmers stopped growing tobacco after tobacco price support and quota programs ended 10 years ago. That program caused farm owners to consolidate. Agriculture statistics show the average tobacco farm in North Carolina is now 100 acres, more than four times the size of the average farm a decade ago, according to the data obtained by the News & Observer of Raleigh (http://bit.ly/1nz3vsd ).

The federal government paid farmers more than $10 billion to ease them off the old program, which started during the Great Depression.

Still, the overall amount of land in the state set aside to grow tobacco has recently stayed stable, and North Carolina remains the top tobacco growing state in the nation.

The state has been helped because of greater overseas demand for U.S. tobacco, especially in places like China, said Tommy Bunn, president of the Raleigh-based U.S. Tobacco Cooperative.

“China is a large market for U.S. tobacco because of the premium quality, the flavor and aroma and the cleanliness of it,” he said. “It’s well-handled.”

But there could be more struggles on the horizon. The tobacco farmers who remain are keeping a careful eye on the rise of e-cigarette, which don’t require tobacco.

“Even though there are ups and downs as far as the weather, the economy,” he said, “we have no ideas about the rains, about the heat, about the dry. We don’t know any of that,” said Jackie Thompson, who grows tobacco at his Wake Forest farm. “We just have to have the faith that it’s going to be good enough to give us the return what we invested plus a little.”