- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

RICHMOND (AP) — Tobacco, historically Virginia’s top cash crop, has lost its crown to soybeans.

Last year, soybeans generated $124.3 million in cash receipts for the state’s farmers, according to figures from the Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service.

Tobacco dropped to No. 2, with $112.9 million in cash receipts.

The toppling of tobacco, which was planted by Jamestown settlers in the 1600s, did not come as a surprise. Tobacco acreage has been contracting in Virginia for decades.

Production has spiraled downward in recent years for several reasons, including lower U.S. smoking rates, the federal tobacco-quota buyout and cheaper leaf from places such as Brazil and Africa.

In 1997, Virginia farmers brought in about $191 million in cash receipts from 53,000 acres of tobacco. That year, soybeans generated about $99 million in cash receipts.

By last year, tobacco production dropped to about 30,000 acres.

John Boyd, a Mecklenburg County tobacco grower and president of the National Black Farmers Association, said there has been a sharp decline in the number of people “who are growing a little tobacco.”

“They are saying, ‘I am just not going to do this anymore.’”

With the elimination of the government’s tobacco price-support program this year, Mr. Boyd and others expect to see even more decreases in production.

Cash receipts from tobacco rose last year from $89.5 million in 2003, though they fell in prior years.

Overall, the long-term decline in tobacco production and a solid year for soybeans in 2004 were enough to propel soybeans to No. 1.

“We finally got to that breaking point, where one of the other crops took [tobacco] over,” says Kevin Harding, who works for the statistics service.

Soybean cash receipts rose almost 50 percent last year from $83.4 million in 2003. Soybean production rose from 480,000 acres in 2003 to 530,000 acres in 2004.

“We had excellent growing conditions, especially after several years of drought,” said Dick Atkinson, executive director of the Virginia Soybean Association.

It’s unlikely that tobacco will regain its position this year, officials say.

Production has dropped this year to about 17,000 acres, and prices are falling.

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