Mergers and rumors of mergers have left some Southeast tobacco growers wondering about the availability and cost of seed for the 2012 growing season.

Much of the concern came from a recent announcement that GoldLeaf Seed Company would no longer be selling F.W. Rickard Seed. Both companies have long reputations for selling tobacco seed, but company officials say the changes in source of tobacco seed comes from basic business opportunities created by the merger of several tobacco industry companies.

Hartsville, S.C.,-based GoldLeaf seed has been a major distributor of Rickard and other brands of tobacco seed for the past decade.

Though the company won’t be selling Rickard seed in 2012, they will continue to supply tobacco growers with high quality seed, based on the tradition and seed heritage of Coker, McNair and Northrup King seed companies.

U.S. flue-cured tobacco growers will have a new direct source through distributors of high-quality tobacco seed for the 2012 crop season. F.W. Rickard Seeds will be distributing its flue-cured tobacco seed varieties through traditional distributors supplying farmers their inputs for growing tobacco.

 “Rickard Seeds’ seed supply will be more than adequate and not affected by recent changes in the tobacco seed market, according to Todd Taylor, general manager of Winchester, Ky.-based F.W. Rickard Seeds.

“Tobacco growers concerned about the merger of tobacco companies shouldn’t be worried, and in fact will ultimately benefit from the merger of Rickard Seeds into Altria as result of the company’s acquisition of UST, Inc., in January 2009, Taylor says.    

Though a part of the Altria family of companies, Rickard Seeds doesn’t supply exclusively to Altria’s tobacco companies’ contract growers.

Altria’s Philip Morris USA (PM USA) and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. (USSTC) subsidiaries buy tobacco through contracts with U.S. growers, but don’t require they use seed from Rickard Seeds, says Taylor.                      

“Though we do sell our seed through distributors to PM USA and USSTC contract growers, we are not limited to selling to these customers. The Altria acquisition has provided us the opportunity to leverage additional resources to develop new and improved varieties for growers.”  

Rickard Seeds has been a stalwart in the burley and dark tobacco markets since its inception in 1937 and is the largest supplier of burley and dark tobacco seed in the U.S.

In 1997 Rickard Seeds began developing and selling hybrid flue-cured tobacco seed varieties. Taylor says, 

“The take home message is that we have sold burley and dark tobacco seed for 75 years, so selling flue-cured seed is nothing new to us. All the distributors from whom growers have bought seed in the past will have equal access to our seed.”

Much of hoopla over the continuation of business as usual in the U.S. tobacco seed market came about by the announcement this year that GoldLeaf Seed Company would no longer sell Rickard Seeds’ flue-cured seed varieties.

Taylor says their business agreement with GoldLeaf Seed was ended because Rickard Seeds had a long history of selling seed in the burley and dark tobacco markets and simply decided to begin selling their varieties directly through other distributors and suppliers in the flue-cured market.