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Over the Fence: Tobacco Farming August 29, 2007

Posted by Laura in Farm.

Our hundred year old house was originally a 90+ acre homestead. A whole lot of folks have lived in it over the past century and some of them sold off pieces of the land. Sixty of those acres on the north side of the house are now owned by tobacco farmers.

Over the last few summers, we’ve been here to watch the planting, cultivating, and harvest going on just a few feet from the property line. I thought readers who didn’t live in tobacco country might be interested, so I’ve snapped pictures since the spring.


After the ground is tilled, disked, and frequently sprayed with herbicide, the started tobacco plants are “set.”


Though it may look like these guys are just riding along, there is an interesting system going on. The guys on the outside are passing plants to the inside guys. They put them into the “setters” which are rotating around on those back wheels. As the wheels turn, they plunk the plants into the ground.

Notice the spray coating the ground as they go. I believe this is chemical fertilizer.


Tobacco is amazing to me. With almost no rain at all, it still steadily grows while the blueberries I have faithfully dragged many 5-gallon buckets of water to are just barely clinging to life.


About the first of August, the workers were out “topping” the plants. If you look carefully, you may be able to see the flower spikes on some plants in the foreground. These are broken off to keep the plants from going to seed and to redirect the growth to the leaves.


Mid-August, the workers were back to cut the plants. They walked through swinging blades and piling up the plants.


It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the plants were all hung on poles and then handed up to the guys on the truck. When the truck was full, they unloaded the poles onto special trailers used to transport the hanging tobacco to the smoking barns.


It makes me feel a little better about our garden that despite the frequent drenching of herbicide on these weeds in the foreground, they’re still there and doing fine.

It’s no wonder to me that tobacco is highly carcinogenic. Between the herbicides and the fertilizers, a lot of chemicals are sprayed on it during its growth. Besides that, its leaves are sappy. We can always tell if our dogs have chased a rabbit through the fence because their coats are stiff and sticky for weeks afterward.

A good friend of ours grew tobacco until last year. He came close to a sunstroke and was in bed sick for days. Some of the wonderful farming folks from our church finished his harvest. He vowed to give up raising it when he recovered. His wife was so relieved since she had been worried about his health just from his exposure. Every evening he came home from working with it, he showered well. By morning, some of the chemicals that he had absorbed had oozed back out of his pores and left a silhouette of him on the sheets.

But the thing that keeps folks growing it is that they say they can’t make anywhere close to the same amount of money per acre as they can raising tobacco. An acre’s worth goes for about $6000. The folks beside us had at least 40 acres planted. That kind of money is hard to pass up.



1. julie york - August 31, 2007

You have done a great job of describing this type of farming. Your area looks like our area. However, since the tobacco buyout, many farmers here have given up growing tobacco all together. There are still some who continue the tradition. I still believe that tobacco was put here for a useful reason other than what we use it for. I know that if you put wet tobacco on a bee sting it will help take out the sting!
grace and peace,

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