Tobacco season has different look


About 85-percent of Switzerland County’s tobacco crop is now in the barn; and although the farming landscape of this county’s agricultural community has changed somewhat, burley is still “king” here.

Chuck Deputy of the Switzerland County Farm Service Agency said that his estimates show that this county is growing approximately the same amount of burley tobacco that it did prior to the changes in the tobacco program at the federal level, but it’s all being done in different ways.

“I think we’re probably at the same level,” Chuck Deputy said. “We don’t have a good handle on the amounts because growers don’t have to report to us unless they have crop insurance or another government program. If they aren’t involved in a program, they aren’t required to come in and report.”

Even without a report requirement, Chuck Deputy says that what has been reported is only about 150 acres less than what was reported here under the old system.

Figure that there’s at least that much out there that doesn’t have to be reported, and you find about the same amount of tobacco being grown.


So what’s different?

Chuck Deputy said that although the poundage is roughly the same, it is the number of growers that has dropped.

“If you look at the acres, I’d say there’s about 800 acres being grown here,” Chuck Deputy said. “I’d say we’re still in the 1.2 million to 1.5 million pound production total; but the difference is that the smaller growers are gone.”

Chuck Deputy said that under the old government system, there was a limit on how much tobacco could be grown in the state of Indiana. With cross county leases, a grower could lease tobacco in another county and then grow it here; but the total amount statewide couldn’t exceed the state maximum.

That was secured by plots of land having “tobacco base” on them – an assigned amount of tobacco that could be grown. Some base owners chose to lease their base to larger growers, while others used it as a family “savings account”.

“Those smaller growers would use their tobacco for their Christmas money,” Chuck Deputy said. “The whole family would be involved in growing a half of an acre or an acre; but those growers are not in the business anymore.”

While once there were small producers growing an acre of tobacco or less, Chuck Deputy says that today a “small producer” is someone growing three to five acres.

The tobacco companies will still write contracts for small growers, but for many it made more financial sense to take the buyout program and stop growing.

With the elimination of the federal program, there’s now no limit on how much can be grown by a producer – or where they can grow it.

“Those limits don’t exist anymore,” Chuck Deputy said. “There’s no limit on what you can raise, if you can get a tobacco company to give you a contract for that much.”

Chuck Deputy also said that the federal government program said that burley tobacco could only be raised in “burley tobacco state”, while flu-cured tobacco could only be raised in a “flu-cured state”. Those restrictions no longer apply, either.

Flu-cured tobacco is traditionally raised in the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland – but now, if a Switzerland County farmer could get the contract and had the equipment – it could be grown here, and vise versa.

The method of getting tobacco to the company is also much different.

The large tobacco warehouses that used to be gearing up for yearly auctions at this time of the year now sit basically empty. Those have been replaced by direct contracts between the grower and the tobacco company. Once the crop is ready to go to market, it’s moved directly to a processing center operated by the company, and then shipped off.

Phillip Morris USA is the biggest contractor in this area.


As for the condition of this year’s crop, Chuck Deputy says that it looks pretty good at this point, and that some scattered reports of blue mold haven’t led to large outbreaks.

“I think we’re looking at an above average yield this year,” Chuck Deputy said.

The one problem that faced growers was the shortage of labor. Chuck Deputy said that tougher immigration standards meant fewer migrant workers in this area this year, and that caused big challenges for growers.

With most of the crop now in the barn, Chuck Deputy said that the labor shortage problem is basically passed, but there are still some growers out there looking for help.

And the impact on the Switzerland County economy?

With approximately the same amount of tobacco being grown, the total dollars coming into Switzerland County shouldn’t change – but what does change is the distribution of those dollars.

The small producers are out of the business, with the larger producers – fewer in number – holding larger amounts of the burley profits.

As those producers begin to reinvest those profits into the local economy, there shouldn’t be much of a drop off; but Chuck Deputy feels that retails won’t see as many buyers as before.

“The whole thing’s changed a lot,” Chuck Deputy said. “It’s a different world for growers now.”