Yesterday, we heard from Kevin Gardner, who farms a long with his family in Wilson, Pitt, and Edgecombe counties. The Gardner’s cotton crop took a serious hit from Hurricane Irene and never really recovered. But, tobacco also took a big hit, and as Gardner explains, some was salvageable:
“Tobacco crop? Destroyed. Some of our tobacco crops were already flat, and when I say flat, I mean as flat as the grass in your yard. Just blown down, blown across the road, just flat. You know, it’s amazing that this 50 acres of tobacco here in this area is blown worse than the 50 acres up the road, yet, the 50 acres up the road was blown, and twisted and tangled, but we were able to salvage some of it.”
Gardner explains that what leaf they did salvage was with the blessing of their contractor:
“Didn’t do like a lot of growers, a lot of growers just threw up their hands and walked away from it. We had a meeting that Monday morning after the hurricane, one of my tobacco companies came to me, and we sat down and we had a meeting, and we told them what we had and what we could do to save this crop and they told us what they could do. By God, we stuck by what we would do, and they stuck by what they would do. We salvaged every acre that was possible, wasn’t a lot, but we came up about fifty percent short on tobacco.”
The contractor, explains Gardner, was an integral part of what tobacco they were able to salvage:
“When we sat down, we went over various options, you know, on how to try to save what we could, they told us what they were projected they were going and we told them what we were projected what we were going to be, neither one of us missed it by far. When they look at operations that tried to salvage this crop, they’re going to look after us because we tried to look after them. Yes; we didn’t deliver 100% of our contract, but we delivered what we could.”
For some growers, not fulfilling a tobacco contract is a death knell for contracting in subsequent years. Gardner says the effort they put into salvaging their crop after Irene will go a long way to their staying in the tobacco business in years to come.
Shortly after Irene, there was concern that the market would be flooded with sub-standard leaf, hurting not only pricing, but the reputation of tobacco growers across the state. Gardner says the quality of their crop didn’t suffer a great deal, there just wasn’t much of it:
“Our operation was fortunate, what we were able to salvage was just as high quality as pre-storm tobacco was. We started with our absolute best tobacco after the storm, and we got our absolute best first, and we worked our way to tobacco that was flat as grass, and by the time we got there it was getting a little trashy. And part of our agreement was was that they were going to tell us when to stop, so that we weren’t putting in tobacco that was putting us in the red. It was just a close working relationship between us, and it worked out well for both of us.”
Kevin Gardner farms with his family near Macclesfield, NC.