Burley and dark tobacco growers finished 2011 with excellent prices on their contract and auction markets, but an economist at the University of Kentucky cautioned that a downturn as marketing ends in January and February seems possible.

“We will likely have some lower quality burley to hit the market later in the season,” said Will Snell, Kentucky Extension economist, in December. “That might bring down prices some.”

But the burley market did very well before its seasonal close in late December.

Roger Quarles, a burley grower in Georgetown, Ky., said the price seemed to be going up late in the year. “Most years, that is not the case."

The growing recognition of under-production of burley was part of the reason.

“We are going to be really short on weight, compared to recent years,” said Brian Furnish of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative in Lexington, Ky.

But the quality is better than the last two years, he said. He estimated that pre-Christmas prices averaged $1.75 to $1.80 per pound, with the best bringing up to $1.82. That would be roughly four to five cents a pound over the previous market.

Parts of the burley belt were helped considerably by rain from remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, which in some areas was as much as four inches. Later, it turned overcast and misty, stalling harvest to some extent.

How did this crop turn out for growers? Burley farmer Doug Langley of Shelbyville, Ky., told the Associated Press that lower yields took some of the luster off the good marketing season. “It should be profitable, but it's not a ‘landslide’ victory,” he said.

After the shock of Hurricane Irene, the flue-cured market performed reasonably well right to its end in November.

But no one was shooting off firecrackers about the 2011 crop.

A leaf dealer said about 380 million pounds of flue-cured from the 2011 crop entered the trade, at an average of about $1.78 to $1.80 per pound. “That is not going to be enough to keep some farmers viable,” he said. “Insurance won't make them whole either.”