Tobacco tour rolls into town

Vick Family Farms hosts visiting researchers, academics and growers

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By Drew C. Wilson

Vick Family Farms hosted the kickoff of the 2018 North Carolina State University Tobacco Tour on Monday.

More than 100 area farmers, researchers and agribusiness people looked at new technologies that could be implemented in the production process during the annual event held by N.C. State and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

“It is important to have this research and the science and technology on the farm so that we can improve our efficiency and increase our profit margin at the end of the day,” said Linwood Vick, general farm manager at Vick Family Farms. “We have been working with the university for a long time and we give up a little bit of our time and some of our assets to work with the college and we feel like it’s worthwhile.”

Under a large shelter lined with tobacco curing barns, attendees heard about ways to make the curing process more efficient.

“We have a heat recovery unit that exchanges the hot air entrance in the back of the barn. It’s to reduce our energy consumption and our energy costs with the heat reduction.

We have a turning vane in one barn that helps move air to the front of the barn faster and reduces our electricity costs,” Vick said. “We are seeing some differences. Once we gather all of the data, we will know the cost-effectiveness of all the differences.”

Grant Ellington, N.C. Cooperative Extension specialist in biological and agricultural engineering, said the heat recovery system has been tested at Vick Family Farms and other state farms since 2014.

“What we have seen here at the Vick Family Farms is we are saving about 13 percent on LP gas use,” Ellington said. “This is the first year with the turning vane, so we are really in the preliminary stages of collecting data.”

Attendees also heard about Vick Family Farms’ participation in a project to use sensors on drones to detect nutrient disorders in tobacco.

Norman Harrell, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County, said the event was an opportunity to examine tobacco-farming research.

“It gives a chance for researchers, extension agents, industry people and farmers a chance to get together to talk about the crop and the current research that’s going on,” Harrell said.

“Vick Family Farms has been a gracious host for us. They are working with multiple on-farm tests. That takes time and requires them to slow down a little bit. They view it as beneficial because they can learn from it,” Harrell said. “Today, they are always open on their farm to welcoming guests in and it is just a great place to kick this tour off.”

Vick said he was pleased to see the turnout.

“It’s good to have everybody here. There’s a good exchange of ideas,” Vick said. “We get to hear what the university is doing, but then it’s good to socialize with some of the other farmers and talk about what they are doing on their farms. Maybe we can use some of those here and exchange ideas.”

Jerome Vick, the farming family’s patriarch who also serves in a public relations capacity, said helping gather information from research is a good thing.

“It’s how you learn,” Vick said. “If people hadn’t shared information with me, I wouldn’t know anything. It’s just the way tobacco farmers work.”

That point was not lost on Frank Scott, a 24-year-old eighth-generation farmer from Kenly.

“As fast as the tobacco industry changes and all of the things that go around it change, if we’re not going forward, then we’re going backwards,” Scott said.

Jerome Vick remembers Scott’s great-grandfather, Exum Scott, as being the same way.

“This boy’s great-granddaddy was one of the best I have ever seen at learning about new curing techniques and sharing that with his neighbors,” Vick said. “He would take right off during barning tobacco and drive 100 miles to see a new barn working. That was Exum Scott.”

Scott remembered a recent comment Linwood Vick made that he took to heart.

“We were talking on the phone the other day,” Scott said. “I was frustrated about something that wasn’t working out like I wanted it to and he said “Frank, what’s a lawyer do? A lawyer practices law.’ He said ‘What’s a doctor do?’ ‘Well, I guess a doctor practices medicine,’ and he said ‘Right, I practice farming. There’s always something to learn every day.’”

“If you think about it, it’s the oldest occupation in the world and we still haven’t got it figured out, but we’re working on it,” Scott said.

Bill Collins, 87, a retired agronomy extension specialist with 60 years in the industry, said information sessions like the Tobacco Tour help farmers stay competitive in the world market.

“We learn new things in order to compete,” Collins said. “It’s these types of fine things that keeps us in business.”

“The Vick people are very much community-organized. They want to do something and give something back,” Collins said. “There is no way we could pay for the barns to do this and all that’s there. We bring the brains on what to do this and some small equipment, but the Vicks put up everything else. So that is a tremendous cost savings. All we do is public, so all of what we find is communicated to other growers. Most farms now have the computers and they have educated people and they are able to transmit this to them quickly for quick adoption.

“It goes back to staying in the business and Vick Farm is a prime example of this.”

Other stops on the two-day tobacco tour included Rob Glover Farm in Bailey, the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station near Rocky Mount and the Oxford Tobacco Research Station in Oxford.