‘King’ Tobacco and Need for Diversification on Farms, published in July 1949 issue of The Southern Planter
By F.H. Jeter, Extension Editor, State College, Raleigh
Howard R. Garriss was too much of a gentleman to say “I told you so.” But he had good reason, perhaps to pitch this time-worn chestnut towards those tobacco growers of North Carolina who scurried so frantically over the state in May hunting for almost any kind of plants that they could lay hands on.
All during those early days of the season when the young tobacco plants were beginning to form leaves, Plant Pathologist Garriss had used every legitimate means at his command to acquaint growers with the possibility of an outbreak of blue mold. He told exactly how to spray or dust the beds to protect them from this deadly disease which causes so much trouble each year as the growers seek to transplant a uniform set of plants.
Mr. Garriss had the full and unstinted support of every county farm agent and every special assistant agent for tobacco, as well as those agronomists who concern themselves with tobacco. Not only that, but every commercial organization and cooperative association interested in tobacco likewise called attention to the danger form blue mold and how the disease might best be controlled.
Blue Mold Takes a Toll
All the time the growers had the best plants they had ever grown. The plants grew too well during the mild weather of late winter. They were too big anyway, the growers reasoned, so they figured that a little blue mold wouldn’t hurt much. They never reckoned on the severity of the attack that did come…. Those who did had plants enough to set double their allotted acreage. Those who didn’t had to call on neighbors for supply; and from one end of North Carolina to the other, growers whose plants were destroyed in the bed scurried in the hunt for more fortunate growers.
It was no unusual thing to run across trucks in the dead of night along the main highways hauling plants form a hundred miles away. North Carolina had never experienced a situation just like it and it is not likely that such a thing will ever happen again. The lesson has been learned by costly experience.
Lesson from Alert Growers
Another lesson being studied this spring in North Carolina is the way in which tobacco supplies the main farm income of some counties. Wilson County growers did not suffer from a plant shortage this spring because they had twice or three times the amount needed even for the large tobacco acreage grown there. J.O. Anthony, farm agent, says that not in ten years has there been a shortage and he attributes this excellent record to the alert way in which Wilson tobacco farmers look after the details of growing the crop.
But Wilson plants only 18 to 20 percent of its cleared land in tobacco; yet this crop supplies 85 percent of the cash farm income of the country. Suppose something should happen to the tobacco crop one year! Wilson farmers, therefore, have been taking stock of the situation and, along with the various commercial and civic bosses at the county seat, are trying to work out a way in which the other 80 percent of the open land will pay a desirable income.
The folks of Rockingham County, likewise, have been studying this lesson of farm income. County agent J.E. Foil says a group of farmers, industrial and business groups, along with the agricultural leadership, have found that the 4,221 farms in the county contain 104,796 acres of land. Figures secured from the Agricultural Census of 1945 show that the total farm income amounted to $7,317,129 and that out of this total income, the sum of $6,764,000 was contributed by the tobacco crop alone.
In other words, 92 percent of the farm income of Rockingham County came from tobacco in that year. This tobacco was grown on 16,000 acres. The income from the crop jumped to over $9 million dollars in 1948 but the percentage remained about the same. This means, therefore, that only eight percent of the farm income came from crops other than tobacco and that 85 percent of the land was not being used to best advantage.
… Some improvement has been noted during the last two or three years as man after man has added cows, poultry and hogs. These livestock units were based on new pastures and many landowners have begun to work out suitable contracts with their tenants. This is important because one-half of the farms, or 50.2 percent to be exact, are worked by tenants.
Bertie County Takes Stock
Bertie is another county which is fearlessly facing the situation. Bertie lost 3,000 acres when the tobacco acreage was cut 27 percent. It has lost another 10,000 acres of peanuts when the allotment for this crop went into effect in 1949. This means 13,000 acres of cash crops are out of production. As the folks studied what would be done, they learned that 96 percent of their farm income came from cash crops and only four percent from livestock. They said it took about two-thirds of the income received from livestock to pay for the feed which had to get purchased.
A county-wide meeting was held in Windsor to consider the situation. Everyone present knew that something had to be done. So a program for farm improvement has been drafted. It reads like a declaration of independence and that’s about what it is. Supply merchant, banker, civic leader, farmer, agricultural worker, and every other type of citizen interested in the progress of Bertie attended the meeting to draw up the plan. Farm Agent B.E. Grant says it will begin to be put into operation immediately. The first thing being attempted, of course, is to produce more food and feed because they figured that one-third of the present income from cash crops is being spent to buy these necessities.
This idea of “taking stock” of the situation is not peculiar to Bertie and Rockingham counties. North Carolina farmers are well aware of the fact that they perhaps are staking too much of their economic independence on their main cash crops. That’s why there is such a swing to pastures, hay crops, small fruits, sweet potatoes, hogs, chickens, turkeys, dairy cows and beef cattle.
Anson Growing Sweet Potatoes
Down on the river plantations of Anson County, the sweet potato is being planted by tenant farmers this year. They will grow and cure the sweets for sale at local food stores. They gave the idea a trial in 1948 and found it sound, so the acreage to sweets has been increased in 1949. H.M. Covington, extension horticulturist, says the acreage is being increased over North Carolina by 30 percent and most of this increase is in the commercial crop.
Martin County business leaders are offering valuable prizes for the highest production of marketable sweets per acre this year. New market outlets are being established and these outlets are helping to promote the production of a quality product.
One of the newcomers to the field of agricultural promotion are the Junior Chambers of Commerce. In Cabarrus County, they have formed an endless chain Guernsey calf club; in Durham County they have organized a calf and pasture club among the young folks. In every county they are taking an intelligent interest in the welfare and prosperity of the rural people.
Ruritan clubs are also redoubling their efforts in the eastern part of the state where they have several active clubs. They are fostering swine and corn growing in Currituck by awarding the animals and production prizes in the small neighborhoods of that peninsula.
Dare County Grows Gardens
In Dare County, whose outer banks have for so long been a mysterious and intriguing part of North Carolina, one-time fishermen are finding that long leaf pine and red cedar seedlings will grow when properly set and tended. They form windbreaks behind which vegetable gardens can be grown on the beach sand. A lesson from the Indians is being adapted here also as the new gardeners grow fresh, tasty vegetables right in the sand with the aid of unedible fish and applications of commercial fertilizer.
D.A. Midgett of Waves has one of the best gardens on the Outer Banks. It is grown on sand, which is sometimes covered by the tidewater form salty Pamlico sound. Gardens and seedling trees are likewise being grown in the Rodanthe, Avon, Buxton and Kitty Hawk neighborhoods.
The idea of agricultural balance is found not only in the isolated or entirely rural section, but also in more heavily populated, industrial portions of the state. Excellent gardens, pastures and orchards are to be found in industrial Gaston where one is never far away from the hum of a textile spindle. Temporary and permanent pastures are being seeded there and the milk so produced is sold readily in nearby consuming centers.