Charlie Finch, managing director of Burley Stabilization, reflects on the challenges and opportunities facing American tobacco farmers.
A native of Henderson, N.C., Charlie Finch is a graduate of Louisburg College and East Carolina University.
He worked at the Flue-Cured Tobacco Stabilization Corp. from March 1979 until August 1998, most recently as chief administrative officer and manager of member relations.
These positions allowed Finch
to work with all segments of the tobacco industry, from farmers and auction warehouse operators to leaf merchants and manufacturers.
Together with these stakeholders, Finch
worked on issues that impacted the entire tobacco family-from legislation originating in the U.S. Congress
, the state and local governments to issues that affected the tobacco farmers' economic future.
also associated with tobacco farmers on a global basis through Stabilization's association with The International Tobacco Growers' Association
In August 1998, he became managing director of the Burley Stabilization Corp. (BSC) in Knoxville, Tenn., a position in which he helps farmers obtain production stability and compete successfully in the global market.
TFQ caught up with Finch
and asked him for his
views on the future of U.S. tobacco.
TFQ:With all of the changes in the tobacco industry, does your organization face a challenging future?
And, more specifically, what is the outlook for BSC?
: Not only does our organization face a challenging future, the entire U.S. tobacco industry faces a challenging future, in my opinion.
However, I am optimistic that we can face the challenges, learn from our mistakes and be stronger in the future.
has been grown in this country since 1612 and will continue to be grown for many years to come.
TFQ:What are the greatest challenges facing your organization and American tobacco farmers in general?
: The greatest challenge we as an organization face is to help active farmers remain on the farm during this transition period.
Tobacco farmers are the backbone and foundation of our tobacco industry.
They are struggling with lower prices for their tobacco-as much as 50 percent lower-while production, fuel and labor costs have increased substantially.
TFQ:How will you deal with this challenge?
: First on the agenda is to work with other agricultural organizations to try to obtain a fair and equitable guest worker program.
will continue to proactively serve our farmers on national and state issues that affect their economic viability.
: It had to happen.
: At this point it is hard to tell.
However, I can see production leveling out around the 500-million-pound level and increasing over the next 10 years.
There is a shortage of quality burley tobacco throughout the world, and the U.S. will continue to be a stable supplier.
TFQ:Do you think burley growers will continue to increase exports?
We are seeing renewed interest from foreign customers that have not purchased U.S. tobacco in a number of years.
Consumers of tobacco products in many parts of the world are looking for better products with quality tobacco.
TFQ:What do you enjoy most about working in the tobacco industry?
: Working with farmers.