“The cost of fuel has already increased, and for farmers in this area their trip will be doubled from two hours to four hours. Is it still cost-effective for them to grow tobacco? That’s something they’ll have to decide.”

Al Glass, vice-president of commodity marketing for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said tobacco farmers have not lost their contracts with Altria, but they will need to decide if it is still feasible for them to sell their tobacco under the new circumstances.

“This is a risk of doing business,” Glass said. “Farmers need to decide how they can best exist under these circumstances, but the outlook for small growers is still good, as they have other options.”

Danny Peek, tobacco specialist at the Southwest Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Washington County, said he doesn’t think small-scale growers will sell to Altria.

“If they have to travel to Kentucky or farther, they will try to get a contract with someone closer to them, like Burley Stabilization Corp. or R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.,” Peek said. “Both companies have stations that are interested in buying the tobacco.”

Peek said market conditions tend to change from year to year, and it is hard for growers to make long-term plans, but that tobacco is in high demand.

“Any time someone pulls out, it is scary for growers,” he said. “But no one who grows high-quality tobacco will have a hard time finding someone to buy it. I don’t see anyone turning a grower away.”

Small-scale growers who are interested in selling to Altria could pool their tobacco and then sell it individually at the receiving station to save money, Peek said.

“I’ve seen an interest with growers that got out of tobacco (in) getting back in it,” he noted. “We’ll have to see how it goes, but tobacco is now in demand.”