KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee tobacco farmers are expected to increase production this year, despite legal and regulatory action that threaten the industry, a University of Tennessee tobacco specialist said Monday.
Dr. Don Fowlkes of the UT Agricultural Extension Service said state growers plan to increase tobacco acreage seven percent over last year.
Last month, a federal district court in North Carolina ruled tobacco can be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Liggett Group has announced it will settle its part of a class action lawsuit against the industry.
“Most public issues involving tobacco are negative. The average person might feel that tobacco farming is on its way out and has no future,” Fowlkes said. “But Tennessee’s tobacco industry is very promising from a business perspective.
“Last year, Tennessee burley growers received record high prices for their tobacco at $1.92 per pound.”
Fowlkes said some tobacco companies are “trying to get growers in Tennessee to grow more tobacco because they need more to satisfy demand.”
State tobacco growers earn about $250 million per year, Fowlkes said. Growers are increasing production, but cautiously and with a short-term outlook, Fowlkes said.
“They are pretty much taking things a year at a time and are reluctant to make large capital investments on expensive barns and equipment because there is uncertainty about the future of tobacco,” Fowlkes said. “Though most say the industry is going to be around for a long time, when it comes down to committing long-term dollars, they are somewhat reluctant.”
Fowlkes said increased production could be linked to fewer tobacco farmers worrying about being perceived as a menace to society.
“It is what I call villain fatigue,” Fowlkes said. “There are a lot of farmers who are just tired of being cast as villains just because they grow tobacco for a living.”
Contact: Dr. Don Fowlkes (423-974-7208)