Tobacco loses top place to soybeans in Virginia
Tobacco, historically Virginia's top cash crop, has lost its crown to soybeans.
Last year, soybeans generated $124.3 million in cash receipts for the state's farmers, according to figures from the Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service. Tobacco dropped behind soybeans with $112.9 million in cash receipts.
The toppling of tobacco, which was planted by Jamestown settlers in the 1600s, did not come as a surprise to many. Tobacco acreage has contracted in Virginia for years.
Production has spiraled downward in recent years for several reasons, including lower U.S. smoking rates, the federal tobacco-quota buyout and cheaper leaf from countries such as Brazil and Africa.
In 1997, Virginia farmers brought in about $191 million in cash receipts from 53,000 acres of tobacco. That year, soybeans generated about $99 million in cash receipts. By 2004, however, tobacco production had dropped to about 30,000 acres.
John Boyd, a Virginia tobacco grower and the president of the National Black Farmers Association, says that there has been a sharp decline in the number of people "who are growing a little tobacco."
"They are saying, 'I am just not going to do this anymore,'" he said.
With this year's elimination of the government's tobacco price-support program, Boyd and others say they expect to see even more decreases in production.
Overall, the long-term decline in tobacco production and a solid year for soybeans in 2004 were enough to propel soybeans to No. 1.
"We finally got to that breaking point, where one of the other crops took (tobacco) over," said Kevin Harding, a statistician for the statistics service.
It's unlikely that tobacco will regain its position in 2005, officials say.
Already, production has dropped this year to about 17,000 acres, and prices are also falling.