Producers of all types of tobacco find themselves in an uncertain time. Tobacco is always undergoing a great deal of change but now there are fewer growers and also fewer knowledgeable resources from which they can gather information.
Enter the U.S. Tobacco Forum. This annual event, held recently at Research Triangle Park, N.C., goes a long way in terms of providing some of the information lost when the government ended the federal quota program and the industry downsized.
Many were blindsided when they learned companies had decided to close down a buying station in Georgia and another in Kinston, N.C., last year.
"It would make any business person concerned when they have a major buying point close down," says Blake Brown, agricultural economist at N.C. State University. "You had some producers who were lucky enough to get contracts elsewhere and a lot of producers that were not."
Brown, one of the featured speakers at the forum, noted that since farmers find themselves in an area of uncertainty, they are often uncertain when it comes to making decisions about tobacco investments for the future.
A questioner in the audience during a farmer round table discussion echoed that sentiment.
"How long are you willing to invest in tobacco infrastructure?" came the question from the audience.
Round table speaker Brent Leggett of Nash County, N.C., answered for his tobacco farming operation. "As long as we can establish a commitment, or relationship, with the companies, we're willing," he said. "I'm 25 years old. I have a long time to go."
Another round table speaker, Craig West, a Wayne County grower who is also currently president of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina, added, "It is what we've always done and I feel it is what we are going to continue to do. One thing you've probably heard, maybe in a little different way from each of us, is the need for stability. I understand the pressures on the companies. They're facing unstable times as well… Well, (at our operation) we went years scared to invest. Then, when the buyout happened we did invest in equipment and things like that. But it will take some kind of stability to make that investment again."
Speakers at the forum tried to cover as many issues as possible. Dennis Chapman of USDA's Risk Management Agency discussed crop insurance changes. University of Kentucky tobacco economist, Will Snell, discussed the burley and dark tobacco outlook.
The Food and Drug Administration's regulatory goals were also often touched upon but most speakers noted much of what was said is still speculation.
Find out more about the 2010 U.S. Tobacco Forum at cals.ncsu.edu/advancement/US_Tobacco_Forum_2010.htm.