First-year farmer gets drowned out

By Vicki Hyatt | Jul 10, 2013

First-year farmer Austin Francis is learning a hard lesson about economics and Mother Nature this year, which so far, is one of the wettest most can remember.

Francis graduated from Haywood Community College with a degree in entrepreneurship and decided to augment his landscaping, woodcutting and lawn care business by planting a few acres of tobacco.

"It's a family tradition," he said, noting he signed a contract with a company, Burley Stabilization Corporation, to produce 6,000 pounds of tobacco. The contract price was $2.06 a pound for the top leaves and $1.98 a pound for the bottoms. He planted 3.2 acres and was certain his crop would average the 2,000 pounds an acre that's normal in the mountain region.

What started out as one of the prettiest tobacco fields around is now a sea of mostly yellow, a sign that the water-logged plants have died and won't be harvested.

"I'd say three-fourths of my crop is gone," he said peering across the field that had standing water in places and was muddy all over. "I've got insurance, but I don't know exactly how that works since this is my first year."

A second field on higher ground still has tall, green tobacco plants in places,but there was so much rain that a large sloped area farther back washed out and plants there are also stunted and yellow.

"This crop was going to be beautiful," he said wistfully. "I bought plants that were supposed to be mold-resistant, so I thought I'd be all set. I thought I'd have the perfect crop."

Heavy rainfall in June and early July dashed hopes of that.

"But I'm not going to give up," Francis said. "I'll do it again next year."