One of the striking numbers in the Prospective Plantings report released March 30 by the National Agricultural Statistical Services is the 35 percent increase projected for burley in Virginia.

Is there really that much interest in expanding burley production in the Old Dominion?

“I think the interest in tobacco here is pretty good,” Kenneth Reynolds, a burley grower in Abingdon in the southwest corner of Virginia, told Southeast Farm Press in early April. “I think everyone who wanted a contract found one.

“But I don't see us increasing planting much. I expect we will plant about the same acreage as last year, or maybe a little more. We are seeing some older farmers getting out, while some of the younger farmers are growing more. It probably about evens out.”

Last year's burley in Virginia was hurt by the weather. “Heat and lack of moisture after we transplanted set the crop back, and we never did recover from that late start,” said Reynolds. “Then it was very dry in August. We made about two thirds of a crop.”

Some growers in southwest Virginia area were affected by the closing of Philip Morris USA's Midway, Tenn., buying station, which was that company's nearest facility. “But it was just a few, and I think they were all able to find other markets,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds is a director on the board of Burley Stabilization Corporation, the burley cooperative in Springfield, Tenn. It actively sought new growers in this area and enjoyed some success, which Reynolds takes as good news.

“The export market for U.S. burley is growing,” said Reynolds. “We need to get more tobacco committed to the coop so we can take advantage of it.”

Virginia state agronomist for burley, Danny Peek of Glade Springs, thinks Virginia growers are in a position to participate in increased export sales.

“With our burley all grown now on good soils and with good curing weather most seasons, we should be able to grow premium burley most years,” he said.

Plantings of burley in southwest Virginia will definitely be up this year, Peek said, perhaps by 10 percent or more, and further increases could be in the cards.

The USDA projection of 2,700 acres of burley in Virginia this year is about right. But he doesn't think the percentage increase will be as much as the 35 percent USDA predicts.

There's a reason for the discrepancy. “The agency has been underestimating our plantings for several years, and it looks like it has (now) made a correction,” he said.

And in neighboring Tennessee, NASS projected a substantial increase in burley plantings — 14 percent. But Paul Denton, the state burley agronomist, said there was a discrepancy in this state also, caused by the extensive abandonment of planted burley acreage last season.

The 16,000 acres that USDA projects for state plantings is about right, Denton said, but that acreage is not 14 percent more than what growers actually planted last year. Nevertheless, he thinks that a much bigger burley production could be on the way in the state if weather is anywhere near normal and if no more than an average level of abandonment occurs.