A new regulation that will require tobacco farmers to bale their tobacco in large bales as opposed to small bales will go into effect with the 2010 contracts.
Philip Morris USA is requiring tobacco producers to use the large bales as a means of reducing costs and improving efficiency, said Ken Garcia with Altra Client Services on behalf of Philip Morris USA.
“It’s so efficient for everybody,” Garcia said, adding the move to large bales will mean lower delivery and shipping costs.
Brad Bertram, a Barren County tobacco producer, has been raising tobacco for 12 years with his cousin, Chris Kingery. In 2009, they sold 40,000 pounds of tobacco.
Bertram and Kingery have always used small tobacco bales, but will be making the switch to large bales.
“I think the big bales will be a better way to go,” Bertram said, but says the initial investment will be costly.
The large balers will cost tobacco producers between $5,000 to $8,000, he said, plus tobacco farmers will have to change the way they have been stripping tobacco.
“You will have to modify your hands on how to strip [the tobacco],” he said. “It costs a little more to go that way [but] if that’s what you want to do, that’s what you have to do.”
John Wilhoit, an associate Extension professor at the University of Kentucky, said the new regulation will be more efficient for the tobacco company because it can move them with a forklift. The large bales will weigh between 600 to 700 pounds.
“The little bales, if they accept them, they have to use manual labor to stack them up and strap them into a package the size of a big bale,” he said. “And so over the course of the last five years there has just been a complete conversion by the companies at the receiving stations to use these big bales, because it is more efficient to them and it cuts down labor costs.”
The switch to large bales will be more expensive for tobacco producers and will be harder to justify for the smaller tobacco farmers, he said.
“It takes a different mind set as to how you have your stripping room organized. It requires a lot more space. It’s tough on tobacco growers,” Wilhoit said. “The little balers were very successful. They worked really well. One thing nice about the big balers, they actually improve the labor efficiency when stripped a little bit. You don’t have to orient the leaf. The little balers are narrow. You have to put the leaf in oriented. When you fill the big balers it all just goes in there just random orientation.”
Large tobacco producers have created larger stripping rooms and therefore have the space needed for the large bales, he said.