Snow, Sleet, Rain…and Tobacco?

— Written By Jacob Searcy

 It’s mid-February and we’ve already had a couple snowstorms and several inches of rain. Fields are flooded and most people think farmers are sitting at home waiting for spring. That’s not exactly true. Tobacco farmers have been busily preparing for the 2014-growing season. Believe it or not, a season that starts in just a few days!

 Unlike other field crops, tobacco plants are started hydroponically in a climate-controlled greenhouse. Tobacco farmers will be seeding their greenhouses around the end of February. For the first 55 days after seeding, farmers will tenderly care for their seedlings every day and restless night. Temperatures in the greenhouse will be carefully regulated, the float bed water will be analyzed, and farmers will be on constant guard for diseases.

 In May, these seedlings will be transplanted to fields where they will grow for the next three months. Once the seedlings leave the protection of the greenhouse, they will be subject to inclement weather, insects, and soil borne diseases. About 63 days after transplant, each plant is topped and sprayed with fatty alcohols. Topping is the act of breaking the flowers out to redirect the plant’s energy to the leaves.

 Shortly after topping (and as the nitrogen in the soil is depleted), the tobacco leaves will begin to ripen. Once leaves have ripened sufficiently, the hot and gummy process of harvesting and curing begins. A typical 10-box barn holds about 20,000 lbs. of green leaves. What comes out 8 days later is 4,200 lbs. of bright, golden colored leaves ready to be baled and sold.

 So, why is tobacco important to North Carolina citizens?  Two reasons.

 JOBS!  Our North Carolina economy depends on tobacco for jobs. North Carolina agriculture is an $80 billion a year industry and tobacco remains among the top revenue crops. Farmers in eastern NC spend about $3,200 on an acre of tobacco, which is 8 times greater than an acre of double-cropped wheat/soybeans. As that money trickles down through the economy, jobs are created to supply farmers with the inputs and services they need.

 TAXES!  Tobacco is the leading tax generating commodity in North Carolina! According to the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina; tobacco generated a combined $68.9 billion of federal, state, and local taxes in 2012. Money that is used to do things like build roads, fund schools, and equip our military.

 Just a few things to think about the next time you see a field of tobacco.