BEAUFORT COUNTY, N.C. (WNCT) Tobacco season has just begun in Eastern North Carolina.
This week, farmers have been seeding greenhouses, the first step in what one farmer calls a tedious process.
“This is what determines the rest of the year,” said Archie Griffin of Griffin Farms, Inc.
From mid-February through October, eastern North Carolina farmers give a lot of time and care to what they call the gold leaf.
“It’s a very tedious process because the seed is about the size of a pencil point,” said Griffin.
Trays are loaded with soil and seeds, then moved to a greenhouse where the plants germinate and grow for a few months.
From there, they are planted in the fields and they continue to grow.
Once they’re harvested, the tobacco is dried in stages at varying heat levels to give it it’s golden color.
Each tray has 288 spots and in a greenhouse, there are 14 trays in a row and 42 rows in a bed.
“In this [greenhouse] alone, there are about six beds so you’re looking at roughly a million plants,” said Griffin.
Griffin Farms, Inc. has two greenhouses, therefore, two million tobacco plants per year.
There’s less demand for tobacco than there used to be, but Griffin says it’s still a moneymaker.
“Say it may handle 20% of the land, but it’s about 60% of our income,” he said.
The profit margins for tobacco can be three to four times more than what they are for corn or soybeans.
Since the tobacco market is down, fewer farmers grow it which, in turn, creates more competition for the farmers that do.
“The manufacturers and the companies, they can pick exactly who they want and that put’s more pressure on us,” said Griffin.
Despite the tense competition, Griffin looks at the bright side and will continue to grow the crop.
“They call it the gold leaf but not just because it looks gold. It’s because it’s been the most profitable crop for us,” said Griffin.