Warehouse owners make a commission from the tobacco sold at auction, but
because profits have been decreasing, "the commission isn't enough to pay
the property tax, fire insurance, labor," Conrad said.
As of February, 854 Maryland tobacco farmers, representing nearly 7.65
million pounds of tobacco, had signed up for the buyout, according to the Maryland Tobacco Authority.
About 150 tobacco farmers remain in the state; about 90 percent of them
are Amish or Mennonite, Conrad said. He said if they continue to grow the
crop after the auctions in Maryland end, they could sell directly to Philip
Morris, the nation's largest cigarette company.
Not all farmers sell tobacco every year and some grow as little as seven acres, Conrad said. Many farmers grow tobacco in addition to other crops.
Most of the tobacco being grown in Maryland is now found in St. Mary's,
Charles and Cecil counties, Conrad said.
He said he does not anticipate the decline in tobacco production to have a drastic affect on the state’s economy. “Over the years the position of tobacco from the standpoint of contributing to total agriculture has become less and less important,” he said. “As [the tobacco] economy has weakened, others have strengthened.”
Maryland sold a gross total of $19.9 million worth of tobacco in 1997 – about 1.5 percent of all agricultural sales in the state. By 2002, that figure had dropped to $2.7 million, making tobacco sales only 0.2 percent of the total for Maryland agriculture, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Meanwhile, nursery and greenhouse products increased in importance,
moving from 9 percent to 14.6 percent of the total agricultural sales in
those five years, USDA data shows.
Conrad said some farmers have also turned their land into tourist spots, featuring hayrides and corn mazes.
Poultry and eggs were the top-grossing agricultural products in the state
in 2002, making up 45 percent of agricultural sales.
Hutchins said the buyout has helped the older farmers retire with some money as they left the industry.
“In a way the buyout was good, because most young ones just didn’t want to farm,” he said. “They could make more money out somewhere with easier work.”
Hutchins said he stopped growing tobacco before the buyout -- when the cost of production became prohibitive. “I just couldn’t get the labor to handle it,” he said.
Norman Bennett, director of the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service, estimates that 1,000 acres or less still exists in tobacco production. In the mid-'90s, Southern Maryland cultivated 7,000 to 10,000 acres of tobacco farmland, he said.
Still, he said, "It’s an important part of the identity of Maryland."
Top of Page | Home
Copyright © 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. All rights reserved. Reproduction in
whole or in part without permission is prohibited.