Tobacco farmers expect Philip Morris to announce station closure

Local tobacco farmers expect bad news this week after years of shrinking sales. They’re worried Philip Morris will close a key facility in Northeast Tennessee.

For decades, Greene County boasted the biggest burley hauls in the state. But by 2010, the county had slipped to sixth as fewer and fewer farms cultivated the cash crop.

Burley Tobacco

Burley tobacco plantation

The Philip Morris receiving station in Midway (also called Tennessee Valley Tobacco Services) still takes in 6,000,000 pounds of burley tobacco a year — most of it from Upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

“It will be roughly $10.5 million in sales lost if this receiving station closes,” Jonathan Cavin said.

Cavin, of Cavin Farms, said 138 farmers use the station. They’re worried Philip Morris – and parent company Altria Group – will close it and direct shipments 175 miles north to Danville, Kentucky.

John Litz, of Litz Farms, said the possible shift would cost him hundreds of dollars in fuel and transportation expenses against an already narrow margin of profit.

“They’re going to sign a lot of foreclosure papers on people out here,” Litz said.

For many Greene County tobacco farmers, the crop also represents an ideal.

Cavin is a fourth-generation farmer. He raises cattle, broccoli, cabbage, and tobacco on roughly 1,000 acres of land.

“Tobacco is something that’s been passed down from generation to generation through our family,” he said. “My great grandfather bought the main farm that my father and grandfather live on with tobacco money from the Great Depression.”

Cavin said, in the event Midway’s transfer station closes, his large farm will survive. He’s worried about farmers with less than three acres who do not produce enough tobacco to justify a long round trip.

“For the smaller guy, he’s going to have to take more time off work to sell his crop,” he said.

Farmers received telephone calls from Altria on Friday. The company will host a meeting, beginning at noon, at the General Morgan Inn in Greeneville.

Philip Morris USA Spokesman Ken Garcia confirmed the meeting, but would not detail what it will cover.

“I can’t comment on speculation,” Garcia said.

Local, state, and federal leaders were not aware of any plans to close the Midway station.

State Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) said Philip Morris became Nashville buzzwords on Tuesday — despite a busy start to the legislative session.

“My colleagues in the legislature and I will work with our federal representatives as well as the Altria Group to let our tobacco growers’ concerns be heard,” Hawk said.

Danville Economic Development Partnership CEO Jody Lassiter said the Philip Morris receiving station there (also called Danville Tobacco Services) opened last year. He described it as one of the most efficient facilities of its kind.

“It’s a 50,000 square foot warehouse, previously an industrial facility, and they’ve done a lot of interior work this year,” Lassiter said. “Drivers drive through, unload, and drive out.”

Lassiter said the Danville station could easily handle an additional 6,000,000 pounds of tobacco a year.

“But I would be a bit surprised if Philip Morris decided to do that,” he said.

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