A conversion from conventional tobacco production to organic has had an unexpected benefit for Aaron Sink of High Point, N.C. It has made him more popular with landowners.

“Organic has opened doors for me in getting new land,” he says.

He farms close to an urban area, where city landowners are not always sympathetic to modern agriculture. “But my landlords like the idea of the organic option,” Sink says.

He has grown organic flue-cured for several years, this season on 35 acres.

Organic production is quite a challenge and requires much more labor than conventional tobacco. But the price premium paid by his company — Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company — is high enough to offer the potential for profit.

“Organic tobacco is a nice little niche market for a small farmer like myself,” he says. “It allows me to make a good living farming full time.”

But organic management is very demanding. “That is probably the big factor that limits the acreage we can put into it,” he says. “There are no herbicides you can use, so you have to do a lot of cultivation.”

And there were no sucker control chemicals until recently, he says. “But now we have OTAC. It has worked very well, just like any other contact chemical. We have to spray weekly and not get behind, but it has definitely cut back on the labor of controlling suckers. But you do still have to clean up by hand sometimes.”

The harvesting process hasn’t changed. “We hand harvest and put the leaf in box trailers that we pull through the field,” he says.

Rotation is important since no disease control chemicals can be used either. Sink’s rotation is one year of tobacco followed by wheat then a year of a legume. He is still experimenting to find the best legume.

Burley growers could save some of the labor of cutting down their stalks in the field and make the remaining labor easier on the back by using a Weedeater instead of the traditional long-handled knife.

The traditional method of harvesting burley is time consuming and physically demanding. It involves stooping to cut the stalk by hand near the ground using a long-handled knife.