Tobacco acreage continues to slip in Georgia and Florida, as does the number of farmers growing the crop that once was an economic boom for rural areas in both states. But the crop's condition looks good in both states this year, off to as good a start in recent memory.
"This is the most uniform crop at topping and easiest to apply sucker control materials and clean up the tops and be done as I've ever seen," said J. Michael Moore, University of Georgia tobacco agronomist who also covers tobacco in Florida.
Georgia's acreage decreased from 10,000 acres last year to around 9,000 acres planted this spring, Moore said. This will be the lowest acreage in Georgia since 1918, when farmers grew 7,000 acres, according to Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service records. Georgia lost another 10 to 15 growers from last year, with just around 200 tobacco growers in the state now.
Florida will have roughly 850 acres planted. Florida has fewer than a dozen tobacco growers remaining in business, where decades ago there were well over 1,000 tobacco growers in the northern part of the state.
There are two more years of the tobacco buyout payments coming to growers who didn't take the lump sum payment in 2004. The buyout ended the Depression-era federal quota program that regulated tobacco acreage and production in the country. In the years before the buyout, which most growers wanted, Georgia had a little more than 1,000 tobacco growers.
"We hope (the remaining growers) aren't farming off of their buyout payments. If they are, there is going to be an awaking at that point and put a lot of financial pressure on growers, and we may see some more drop out at that point," said Moore on the Georgia-Florida Tobacco Tour, which took place June 12 and 13.
For the most part, the remaining growers in Georgia and Florida are "the hardcore" growers who have invested large amounts of money in automation, equipment, land and other resources to produce high-quality tobacco. "And those guys are here to stay," he said.
To see more of the Georgia-Florida Tobacco Tour and Southern Farmer editor Brad Haire's interview with Moore, particularly on the latest tomato spotted wilt virus problems and research in the states, please watch the video.