Representatives from Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Greece, Jordan, the Netherlands, the Philippines and Greece, along with a few U.S. tobacco buyers, visited two Virginia tobacco farms and a tobacco receiving station Aug. 20. It was part of Tobacco Associates Inc.’s 2015 International U.S. Leaf Grading School Tobacco Farm Production and Industry Tour. The event was co-hosted by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services and the Virginia Tobacco Board.
Tobacco Associates is a trade organization funded by U.S. tobacco growers to promote their products. The tour, as well as a two-week training program, helps leaf buyers and tobacco manufacturers learn more about the raising, curing and blending of U.S. tobacco.
Kirk Wayne, president of Tobacco Associates, said students receive three days of intense classroom training about tobacco leaf quality before visiting farms and seeing the process up close. “They learn about our systems and how we produce quality tobacco,” Wayne said. “Part of the program is teaching them how we use U.S. tobacco to produce our special blends.”
The tobacco school is funded by flue-cured tobacco growers in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. “It’s grown each year over the past eight years,” Wayne said.
More than 80 U.S. tobacco blends are sold worldwide, and more than 60 percent of U.S. flue-cured tobacco, the type the group viewed Aug. 20, is exported, Wayne noted. Virginia farmers grow close to 21,000 acres of flue-cured tobacco annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
At the Terry family’s Golden Leaf Farms in Keeling, students observed the farm’s tobacco leaf handling and grading systems that ensure tobacco bales consist of “the cleanest, best quality tobacco there is,” explained Stephen Barts, a Pittsylvania County agriculture and natural resources agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension. “The Terrys are some of the most meticulous growers there are.”
At JF Leaf Ltd. in Mecklenburg County, the students learned about grower Jim Jennings’ leaf grading system. They also learned that one researcher, Dr. David Reed, found that reducing fuel consumption in tobacco drying barns can also improve curing efficiency. Reed works at the Southern Piedmont Regional Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore said, “As far as I’m concerned, this is the greatest tobacco-producing region in the world.”
The tour concluded with a visit to Universal Leaf’s tobacco receiving station in South Hill.