The cost of energy and labor are two of the biggest concerns for tobacco growers in 2012, says Brent Leggett of Nashville, N.C., the new president of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina (TGANC).

Creative management of both could be the key to overcoming both.

“That’s especially true if you are using H-2A workers, as we are. H-2A wages have gone up 40 cents an hour, and you have to increase efficiency to manage that.”

Due to the mild winter, LP gas has actually gone down a little in price. “But you don’t know how long that is going to last,” he said.

Leggett uses LP gas as curing fuel for his flue-cured tobacco, but he is looking into converting to natural gas as a cost-savings measure.

Leggett grows tobacco, sweet potatoes, cotton, soybeans, cucumbers and has two roadside strawberry farms.

Most of the tobacco farmers at the annual meeting were very much hoping the 2012 season brings better weather conditions than 2011 did.

“Once again the weather was not particularly supportive in 2011,” said Craig West, a Fremont, N.C., flue-cured grower who ended his term as TGANC president at the meeting. “In most locations the crop conditions were extremely dry and hot early in the season.”

But ultimately, 2011 will be remembered for Hurricane Irene, which subtracted about 150 million pounds of marketable production, according to final estimates, he says. “It likely impacted another 40 to 50 million pounds from stress and bruising.”

Some growers are getting out. “We have no real estimate as to how many (of our) peers will stop growing tobacco in 2012,” said West. “But the alarm bells are sounding and I wonder if the buyers are hearing. Once a grower exits, it is highly unlikely that family farm ever resumes tobacco production.”