As contracting for the coming tobacco crop got under way, it was clear buyers were looking for more U.S. leaf and were willing to pay a higher price for it.

Existing growers, however, may have a hard time expanding enough to meet the increased demand. So there may be an opportunity for first-time tobacco growers to begin producing the crop this season.

Any who do face quite a challenge. There have been a number of new growers since deregulation in 2004, and some have had more success than others.

One who is glad he got into tobacco is Kelvin Norris of Princeton, N.C. He first  planted it in 2008 and has just completed his fifth crop.

“I just felt like at that point, to be diversified and successful, we needed to grow something else other than what we had,” he remembers. “Flue-cured tobacco is real well suited to the assets we have, so it seemed like a good choice.”

A good relationship with a lending institution is a necessity to grow tobacco, he said. “Budgeting is very important. Before we went to see the lender, I put the numbers on paper. I tried to prove that it would work if they gave us the chance. It had to work on paper before it could work anywhere else.”

He and his brother-in-law partner had to buy nearly all the machinery they needed all at once, almost all of it used. They concentrated on minimizing labor.

“Labor is the main expense, so to be successful, it is better to be as mechanized as possible,” Norris said. “But it is hard to buy a million dollars worth of equipment that you only grow one thing with!”

Most of the machinery they bought was used. Most of the land they work is rented.

Norris has had a positive experience with tobacco, and it has been made a little more positive when they were offered and signed a five-year contract with Philip Morris with delivery in nearby Wilson.

The fact that few multi-year contracts have been available until recently has been one reason why new and even existing farmers have been reluctant to make long-term investments in tobacco.

But Norris is in tobacco for the long-term. “If you grow quality tobacco, I believe, you can grow tobacco forever,” he said.

In 2005, the first growing season after the American buyout, Jeremy Rhodes, primarily a sweet potato grower of Four Oaks, N.C., decided to try tobacco production. He grew flue-cured, the dominant type in his area of the Coastal Plain, and he tried it for five crops.