What is in this article?:
• Billy 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.
• In addition to growing organic tobacco, Carter also produces organic tobacco transplants, which, he admits, can be challenging from time to time.
• In his conventional operation he grows soybeans, tobacco, small grains, sweet corn, strawberries, watermelons, and tomatoes.
ORGANIC TOBACCO is high risk and high reward for North Carolina grower Billy Carter.
Demand has risen significantly
Subsequently the company has gone through several growth spurts and demand for organic tobacco products has risen significantly over the past few years.
In addition to growing organic tobacco, Carter also produces organic tobacco transplants, which, he admits, can be challenging from time to time.
In 2011, he grew enough organic transplants to produce 150 acres of organic tobacco. In 2012, he will double his greenhouse capacity, with the construction of a new greenhouse that is better suited to organic transplant production.
“During the time we were growing our organic tobacco business, we looked at growing other crops, like sweet potatoes and sweet corn. We could grow the crops successfully, but we could never make them profitable enough to justify investing in the infrastructure needed to market these crops ourselves,” Carter says.
“The people he hired to do the packing and marketing did exactly what they promised to do — they were straight up people — no problems with that,” he says.
“Unless you can do your own packing and marketing, it’s hard to make it profitable,” he adds.
With organic products there are two primary ways to market crops. At one level you have farmers markets and small retail operations who are as interested in knowing the farmer as they are interested in the food product the farmer produces.
Then the North Carolina farmer says, he doesn’t have the mindset, nor the ambition to make that organic market work for him.
At the other end of the spectrum are large scale commercial operations which are already putting organic commodities into the marketplace, along with conventionally grown commodities.
And, his organic farming operation isn’t yet large enough to get into the larger market, Carter says.
“We do grow organic soft and hard red wheat. It’s not as profitable as tobacco, but it fits well into our organic cropping system,” Carter says. There is a rapidly increasing demand for organic grain and the North Carolina grower is positioning himself for that market, much the same way he did with organic tobacco more than a decade ago.
In 2012, he hopes to push organic crops to more than 300 acres, or about a third of his entire farming operation. His conventional farming operation includes tobacco, which is not necessarily a good thing for his organic tobacco production.
“Any time you grow parallel crops, or the same crop conventionally and organically, there is a heightened scrutiny by the agencies that certify farmland as organic.
“While it’s necessary to prevent co-mingling of organic and conventional, it can be time consuming, and it has been an impediment for us because we are not in a position with our other crops to grow them organic,” Carter says.
In his conventional operation he grows soybeans, tobacco, small grains, sweet corn, strawberries, watermelons, and tomatoes.