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Tobacco referendum passes by wide margin

Media Contact: Keith Oakley, executive director of college advancement and president of the N.C. Tobacco Foundation Inc, 919-515-9262 or

North Carolina tobacco growers voted overwhelmingly Nov. 19 to continue a self-assessment that raises funds to support tobacco-related research and extension efforts of NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Under the Tobacco Research Check-Off, started 24 years ago, producers decide whether to assess 10 cents per 100 pounds of flue-cured and burley tobacco sold. This year’s referendum – which passed by 94.5 percent – continues the assessment through the 2021 crop year.

The N.C. Tobacco Research Commission allocates about $300,000 annually for tobacco-related projects. The commission includes the state Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services; the presidents of the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation, the N.C. State Grange and the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina; and the N.C. Tobacco Foundation chairman.

Keith Oakley, president of the foundation and state check-off coordinator, said the referendum’s passage is important for future tobacco production in North Carolina, especially in light of the fact that federal funding for tobacco research ceased in 1994 and state support has declined in recent years due to state budget cuts.

Tobacco continues to be the highest-value row crop produced in the state, with farm-gate sales in 2014 of more than $900 million. North Carolina produces about 80 percent of the Southeast’s tobacco acreage, up from two-thirds since before the tobacco buyout of 2004. That increase is partly due to “competitive advantages related to tobacco-production research and education,” Oakley said.

According to CALS Dean Dr. Richard Linton, funds from the check-off will address such important areas as variety development, insect and disease management, and reduction of pesticide residues, production costs, on-farm energy consumption and weed-seed contamination in tobacco exports.

— Dee Shore, 919-513-3117 or