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Tobacco production climbs steadily in county, bucking trend / August 26, 2015
Tobacco use might be on the decline in the U.S. and other developed nations, but here in Mecklenburg County production of flue-cured leaf is on the rebound as demand for the product in China, India and Southeast Asia continues to climb.

In the past five years, Mecklenburg County’s tobacco production has increased nearly 14 percent. This year farmers reported growing 4,143 acres of flue cured tobacco, and an additional five acres of burley tobacco, according to Denise Hight with USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

Production in Mecklenburg County bottomed out in 2005 when less than 3,000 acres were grown. This was the first year following the end of the tobacco quota system — a program that allotted farmers an annual quota for tobacco production to keep prices artificially elevated so they could make a profit. At the time of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, nearly 38,000 acres through Virginia were dedicated to tobacco production.

Mecklenburg’s current numbers are not indicative of the tobacco production across the state. In 2015, Virginia burley tobacco production is forecast at 2.08 million pounds, down 29 percent from 2014. Flue cured tobacco production is forecast at 51.5 million pounds, down five percent from last year.

In Halifax County, tobacco production remains relatively flat, which is more in line with what is happening around the Virginia.

Locally, Charlotte and Lunenburg counties are also seeing a decline in tobacco production. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of acres dedicated to tobacco in Charlotte County dropped nine percent and in Lunenburg County 24 percent. In that same five year period, production increased in Brunswick and Pittsylvania counties, by 14 percent and eight percent, respectively, though both counties saw a six percent decrease in tobacco between 2014 and 2015.

None of the local agencies that track farm production have looked into the reason Mecklenburg County’s production continues to climb. One agent speculated that it could be due to an increase in organic tobacco farming in the county, but noted that organic tobacco contracts are available to anyone who wishes to plant the crop.

While production may be up in Mecklenburg County, some farmers report they are having a harder time selling their primings. David Reed, a Virginia Extension tobacco specialist said the quality of these first pullings (taken from the bottom of the plant) is “reasonable.”

Yet the market for primings “is soft,” according to Chris Bickers’ Tobacco Farmer Newsletter. These lower leafs are used as filler in cigarettes. With companies buying more of their filler from Brazil at lower prices, local producers, without a contract, are being forced to sell their primings, if they can find a buyer, at very low prices.

Even at today’s numbers, tobacco continues to play a huge part in Virginia and Mecklenburg County’s history and economy. It ranks number ten among Virginia commodities in terms of cash receipts.

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