FLORENCE, S.C. — The Pee Dee is flavor country for the state of South Carolina, and things are set to get much smoother this year with 25 percent more acres devoted to tobacco this season, according to crop estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently released planting report.
Certainly not the cash crop it used to be, flue-cured tobacco was a paltry $48.8 million crop in the state last year that was planted on 12,000 acres with an average yield of 2,100 pounds per acre. This year farmers plan on increasing acreage to 15,000 thanks to international demand.
Tre Coleman, state tobacco board marketing specialist, said he thinks that number could stand to grow even more.
“What’s driving that is the hurricane that affected North Carolina last year that took out a lot of excess production and drought the year before, so stocks are down and demand for our good, flavored tobacco is up,” Coleman said.
Those sentiments were echoed in an outlook report by North Carolina State University professor Blake Brown and University of Kentucky professor Will Snell last November.
“Consequently global supplies of premium style flue-cured tobacco are low even though overall supplies of flue-cured are up,” the report read.
“If this is the only factor in higher prices, then if the 2013 Brazilian crop is of good quality and sufficient quantity U.S. prices could return to lower levels in 2013. However, tobacco buyers are indicating optimism for the flue-cured market beyond the 2012 crop.”
They agree that this year will show how true the demand is for flue-cured as China demands more and countries like Brazil ban flavored cigarettes.
Prices were up $.30 from 2011 to $1.98 a pound in 2012 and based on the 2013 season, prices could continue up, though, combined, the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia show a 6 percent increase for 2013 planted acreage.
It could also be an indication that peanut farmers are jumping back into tobacco after a year where peanuts saw 107,000 acres harvested, with a yield of 3,800 pounds an acre producing 203,300 tons of peanuts – shattering previous state records and increasing production values 80 percent to $138.2 million.
With bumper crops of peanuts from South Carolina and other states still in the market, it’s no wonder why acreage is down 18 percent for South Carolina this year.
Corn’s $298.7 million crop was up 111 percent from 2011 due to higher prices from the devastating drought in the Midwest. With acreage up 5 percent to 345,000, growers seem to remain optimistic, though contracts are around $5.50 to $6.35 a bushel, yields (which increased 87 percent in 2012) that could offset lower prices if they maintain.
Last year’s weather helped keep crops happy, but the thirsty corn crop is becoming more and more irrigated in Pee Dee fields like those owned by Neal Baxley and his family in Marion.
“Our corn acres are up a little bit, but we’re putting in some irrigation because corn can be a risky crop,” Baxley said. “A lot of irrigation has been put in the Pee Dee recently, and that’s going to help with corn. Now farmers can plant corn with less risk and supply a lot of these feed mills, chicken, hog, turkey farms with local grain that is really important. It’s good insurance, too.”
The family plans to keep corn, cotton, peanuts and soybeans evenly divided over thousands of acres, with 125 acres going to tobacco as well.
“In the last couple weeks, the market made changes that make cotton look more competitive than corn,” Baxley said. “Cotton is more forgiving of the weather than corn, too.”
Such prices could change acreage for cotton, which is projected to be down 3 percent to 290,000 acres as well as regional sentiments. In February, the National Cotton Council released its 2013 outlook and said, “Based on the number of responses for the (Southeast) region, two-thirds indicated a decrease in area, with the remaining one-third of responses equally split between those maintaining acreage and those increasing acreage. Respondents indicating a decline in acreage are shifting to corn and soybeans, with soybeans more heavily favored as the alternative.”
For South Carolina, soybean acreage is expected to be down 3 percent after last year’s $182.4 million crop.