Serving Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Princeton & Pine Level since 1973

Wilson crop income charts $30 million decline

Tobacco alone down by $23 million

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


Wilson County’s estimated 2018 income from sales of farm products is off by $30.3 million from 2017.

Norman Harrell, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County, said 2018 was very difficult for the farming community.

Harrell said the overall income for the county was $114,276,457, which is down $30,385,110 from 2017 earnings of $144,661,567. Earnings in 2016 were $173,879,504.

Tobacco growers were hit hardest in Wilson County.

“That is still the cornerstone of the majority of our farming operations and it took a significant hit for the 2018 crop,” Harrell said. “So certainly, our growers are going to be impacted. They are going to be feeling the impact of the 2018 crop for a while.”

Earnings for flue-cured tobacco in 2018 were $25,707,516, which is down $23,508,253 from 2017 earnings of $49,215,769. Earnings in 2016 were $37,181,997.

Hurricane Florence was the big weather event that caused most of the problems for tobacco growers. The tobacco crop was delayed because of dry weather and much of the crop was left in the field at the time Florence hit.

“We actually had a pretty decent crop in the field by the time that hurricane hit and it just went away extremely quickly,” Harrell said.

Some of the crop was damaged when leaves blew off the stalk or were pelted by heavy rains.

“The tobacco just ripened at a pace much faster than we can harvest it,” Harrell said. “It ripened in about a week and, more or less, the majority of the crop was done a week after the hurricane.”

Farmer David Blalock of Blalock Farms said his farm lost around 50 percent of its tobacco crop last year.

“I think in general it’s the worst year that the tobacco industry has suffered in my lifetime anyway, since I have been in the business, and I started in 1979,” Blalock said.

Tim Davis of Davis Farms said the family farm lost about 40 percent of his tobacco crop.

“This is the worst one here we have ever seen and I’ve been farming for 40 years,” Davis said.

Chris Bass of Bass Family Farms lost 60 to 65 percent of his tobacco crop.

“It was tough, tough as I ever remember,” Bass said. “Financially I don’t think it’s going to turn out that bad, but it’s not what we needed with the past few years. We needed a good year and it’s not going to help.”

Bass said the county has had hurricanes in the past that were devastating. Hurricane Florence wasn’t completely devastating, but it makes his top five list of hurricanes that have struck the state.

“It wasn’t the worst year we’ve ever had. Fran was pretty tough, Floyd and Matthew,” Bass said. “We’re getting used to it, I reckon.”

Linwood “Sonny” Scott of Scott Farms estimated his farm lost 35 to 40 percent of its tobacco crop in the storm.

Scott called it “a blessing in disguise.”

“I think the crop was too big,” Scott said.

He included himself along with other farmers is that calculation.

“I think it would have been a real disaster had we saved this crop,” Scott said. “The market itself has gone away a little bit because of the embargoes and the tariffs to China. We have seen the value of the U.S. dollar has accelerated over the last two or three years. Our export markets have gone away for the most part because of the strength of the dollar.”

Scott said when markets go one way, the production needs to go in the same direction along a parallel course.

Scott said the weather in 2018 was “awful, awful, awful.”

“I would say it is as bad as I have ever seen it,” Scott said. “I have been farming for 50 years. I have never seen one much worse than this one, I don’t think.”

Davis, Bass, Blalock and Scott were among the 175 farmers who attended a tobacco production and a good agricultural practices certification meeting at the Wilson County Agricultural Center on Monday.

Harrell said another thing that stands out in the year-end sales sheet is the decrease in nursery greenhouse in large part because of the closure of Gardens Alive, the largest nursery and greenhouse operation in Wilson County and in the state.

Nursery and greenhouse sales for 2018 were $22,407,500, which was down $9,692,500 from 2017 earnings of $32,100,000 and the $47,970,270 in earnings from 2016.

The sprawling 453-acre Gardens Alive business between Rock Ridge and Sims closed Aug. 3, citing increased shipping costs. Wilson was one of four Gardens Alive farms to be sold, with the others in Tennessee, Michigan and Oregon. The sale drastically affected nursery and greenhouse income in Wilson County.

“That number will not recover unless another company comes in here,” Harrell said.

Soybean sales numbers were also off. In 2018, soybean sales in the county were $12,137,425, which was $2,242,461 less than the $14,379,886 in 2017 and more in line with 2016 sales of $12,884,220.

Corn sales numbers were off because of a lack of rain in June and July, Harrell said. In 2018, corn brought in sales of $2,876,025, which is $2,223,542 less than 2017 sales of $5,099,567 and significantly less than the $8,160,654 in sales in 2016.

It wasn’t all losses for Wilson County, though.

Sales of sweet potatoes in 2018 topped $25,488,625, which was $4,838,625 more than 2017 sales of $20,650,000.

Sales of cotton in 2018 were $6,217,132, which was $1,286,547 above 2017 sales of $4,930,585 and markedly above 2016 sales of $1,676,184.

Forestry sales in 2018 were $4,316,180, which was $562,980 over 2017 sales of $3,743,200. Sales in 2016 were $3,893,361.

Cucumbers had sales of $2,400,000 in 2018, which was $600,000 over 2017 sales of $1,800,000.

In 2018, fruits and vegetables brought in $1,220,800, which was $455,300 more than 2017, whose sales were $765,500, and way below 2016 sales of $8,096,375.

Watermelons also had a slight loss overall, with sales in 2018 amounting to $2,155,000. That was $402,100 less than 2017 sales of $2,557,100.

Peanut sales were down in 2018 to $2,086,335, which was $248,173 less than 2017 sales of $2,334,508 and near 2016 sales of $2,118,291.

Wheat was up in 2018, with sales of $1,826,793. That is $222,459 over 2017 sales of $1,604,344 and about three times 2016 sales of $663,449.

Other crops reported 2018 sales of $237,126, which is down $83,982 from 2017 sales of $321,108, but well above 2016 sales of $135,710.

In livestock, sales were mixed. Swine sales in 2018 were $1,900,000, which is up $100,000 from 2017 sales of $1,800,000, but in line with the 2016 sales of $1,890,000.

Beef cattle sales in 2018 were $1,550,000, which was $100,000 less than 2017 sales of $1,650,000 and well below 2016 sales of $1,875,000.

Poultry sales in 2018 were $1,750,000, which is $50,000 more than the 2017 sales of $1,700,000 and also above 2016 sales of $1,500,000