Billy Carter got into organic tobacco production in a serendipitous way that fit into conventional production of crops, and now the two concepts work well in tandem, says the Eagle Springs, N.C., grower.

Carter, who grows more than a thousand acres of conventional and organic crops, says he first became interested in organic production in the mid-1990s.

Always looking for new crops and new approaches to growing crops, he explored the possibilities for using some land that had been in a long rotation on his farm for organic production.

“At that time there wasn’t a good crop to grow organically — at least not one I felt I could commit to long-term and make it profitable in my farming operation,” Carter says.

Then in 1998 serendipity stepped in and Carter’s new found knowledge of organic farming fit perfectly with Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company’s efforts to develop organic tobacco for use in their line of additive-free tobacco products.

“We were already growing conventional tobacco at the time.  I knew enough about organic farming and conventional tobacco to believe I could start out with a clean growing environment, and make tobacco adaptable to an organic production system,” he adds.

So, he set out to convince Santa Fe to give him a contract to grow organic tobacco.

In those early days Santa Fe was mostly interested in contracting growers near their headquarters in Oxford, N.C. It took some convincing, but Carter ultimately got a contract for 4,000 pounds of tobacco, which he grew organically on three acres.

Billy Carter, organic farmer and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, organic tobacco product manufacturer kind of grew up together. Now, the company buys approximately 2.7 million pounds of organic tobacco annually and Billy Carter will grow about 100 acres in 2012.

In those early years, Carter saw the opportunity for bigger organic tobacco acreage in the future and he began to get more and better land certified for organic production.

Santa Fe went through some growing pains and initially had some problems getting the acreage they wanted for organic tobacco.