Tobacco specialist's advice to farmers: Tighten your belts
A tobacco specialist from N.C. State University advised local tobacco farmers to consider penny-pinching tactics to soften the effect of continued quota cuts.
''All of us are trying to do more with less money,'' said Gerald Peedin at a meeting of tobacco farmers last night. ''We were in tight times last year. We're going to be in tighter times this year.''
Peedin suggested an array of cost-cutting measures to save farmers $5 an acre here and $10 an acre there. He was the main speaker at the meeting, which drew farmers from Davidson, Davie and Randolph counties.
A web of reasons has led to the tough times that tobacco farmers now face, he said.
Quotas -- the amount of tobacco a farmer is allowed to grow -- have been cut substantially in the past several years. Federal legislation and a decline in smoking have led to a decreased demand for tobacco. Cigarette imports have increased while exports have declined, and cigarette prices have risen. ''Things will probably pick up next year, but don't look for a quick fix anytime soon,'' Peedin said.
Many of the tobacco farmers still in the business have already made major cuts on their farms, he said. Now, they have to look into ways to tighten their belts even more. Peedin said that selecting the proper fertilizer could save farmers a few dollars an acre. Cheaper ones may work as well as the more expensive kinds without affecting the quality of the crop, he said.
He also advised farmers to review the process that they use to cure their tobacco. Some may be losing money in wasted heating and gas costs.
''It's not big money, but it's some money.''
Peedin also spoke about two other issues affecting the tobacco industry: the move by cigarette manufacturers to make products with low tobacco-specific nitrosamines, or TSNAs, and contract farming.
TSNAs, by-products found in cured tobacco leaf, are believed to be carcinogenic. Peedin said that some tobacco companies have said that they want to ensure that within five years, their entire inventory has low TSNAs. The process to achieve this requires converting the heat source in flue-cured barns.
Peedin estimated that could cost farmers $5,000 for each barn.
As a result, he said that companies may offer to cover the farmers' costs to make such a change in exchange for a contract to grow tobacco. The number of contract growers may increase in the future, he said.
Ronnie W. Thompson, the Davie County Extension director, said after the meeting that he believes the farmers were open to Peedin's tips.
''The bottom line is in some cases this year, tobacco farms went in the red. That hasn't been the norm,'' Thompson said. ''When everything is looking pretty bleak and negative, anybody that's trying to help you, you kind of receive well.''