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Tobacco growers will get a raise after all, but it's not the victory many were hoping for.
"It's kind a token increase," Taylor County farmer Bernie Cave says. "It's not a victory, but it's definitely a step in the right direction."
Cave, along with Marion County farmer Joe Spaulding, organized a series of meetings with area tobacco farmers who were not satisfied with tobacco giant Philip Morris' contract offering.
The company's previous offer included an increase in the base price of 7 cents per pound (compared with the 2007 contract), and growers who sold to Philip Morris in 2007 were eligible for another 2 cents per pound if they signed contracts by Feb. 29.
But fuel, maintenance, equipment and the cost of workers have risen, the farmers' group contended, and the contract wouldn't cover those additional costs.
However, Philip Morris USA recently offered at additional base price of 9 cents per pound, while Philip Morris International offered to pay growers an additional 8 cents per pound.
Philip Morris International is a separate company from Philip Morris USA. It sells tobacco products outside of the U.S. only. Both companies were owned by Altria Group until March when Philip Morris International was spun off as a separate business.
Pat Hardesty, Taylor County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the increase is a slight one.
"It will not make us profitable," Hardesty said. "We just won't lose as much."
Cave said he doesn't believe the group of farmers he helped organize had much impact on the contract prices. Though they were invited to the group's meetings, Philip Morris representatives did not attend.
Tobacco companies likely offered the increase, Cave said, simply because of the increase in production costs.
While he also believes production costs were a big factor, Hardesty said the farmers' groups did make an impact.
"I feel like part of this is the result of the farmers' groups that formed."
If that's the case, growers may find themselves a better spot at the bargaining table next year.
"They're hoping so," Hardesty said. "They believe this has started a better communication between farmers and the companies."
As for this year's growing season, Hardesty said production is about average. Only minor damage has been reported.
"We have seen some slug damage and some cold injury."
A fluctuation in temperatures like the county has experienced over the last week does slow the growth of tobacco plants, he said. If the temperature changes continue when tobacco plants are a bit more mature, early blooming could occur, he said, which will impact yield.
"Usually, we have less than 1 percent of our crops experience early blooming," Hardesty said. "It's still too early to tell if we will see that this year."
Last year, tobacco producers dealt with blue mold early in the season. Hardesty believes the early outbreak came from mini plugs some farmers purchased from Florida. Mini-plugs are small tobacco plants purchased from other states to help augment local crops.
Because tobacco growth is no longer federally regulated, Hardesty said, he doesn't know how many acres of tobacco are being grown in the county this year. However, he estimates that about 1,100 acres will be harvested.