LOUISBURG -- The state of agriculture, most importantly, tobacco, appears tenuous.
That was the message that Cooperative Extension Director Charles Mitchell delivered to commissioners last week.
In 1977, the national price per pound for tobacco was $1.18. With a production cost of .70 cents per pound, a farmer could expect a profit of .48 cents per pound.
With 2,000 pounds per acre, a farmer with 100 acres looked to pull down $140,000.
In 2019, with a price per pound of $1.75, a yield of 2,200 pounds per acre and a production cost of $1.68 per acre, a farmer with 100 acres could look to pull in $15,400.
"A man can't make it on 7 cents a pound ...," said Commissioner David Bunn. "Do the math.
"There ain't no way."
Also, in 2017, 4,410 acres were harvested for tobacco. There were 4,200 in 2018.
The most recent data, Mitchell said, shows 3,351 acres of flue-cured tobacco in Franklin County.
"This year shows a change in our industry," Mitchell said. "Actually, the last three years, we've seen that.
"Right now, we're down 20 percent."
There are a number of factors impacting agriculture, but when China, which has been purchasing at least 30 percent of a product stops doing so, it's a significant hit, said farmer Steve Nelms.
"We've had a drop in price the last two years," said Nelms, who has been in farming the past 46 years. "It's hard to maintain a farm and keep everything up to date with less money.
"Most everyone gets a raise as time goes on," he said. "We're getting a cut.
"How much longer we can farm with this cut, I don't know."
Those cuts, Nelms said, makes it difficult for farmers to maintain the equipment and resources they need to expand or simply maintain their operations.
"It's not only tobacco," he said. "It's soybeans, corn and wheat.
"I think everybody blames [President Donald] Trump for the China embargo, but our prices have been going down for three years.
"They claim it's oversupply, but I've been taught all my life to produce more on the acres; we've got to feed the world.
"Evidently, we have produced too much," he said. "[Farming] is not as much fun as it used to be.
"I've been farming 46 years," he said. "We've had some hard years; this isn't the only one, and we've had some good years," he said. "We have to adapt to different levels of income to survive."
Part of that adaptation, Mitchell and County Commissioner Michael Schriver noted, is that more farmers are diversifying their product. A number of them have gotten into hemp production.
North Carolina is part of a pilot program for industrial hemp and 16,000 acres have been permitted for its growth.
In Franklin County, about 600 acres have been permitted for its growth, but Mitchell surmised that only about 200 acres are actually in use for the product that's used primarily for fiber, grain, flower/plant extracts and oils.
"The verdict is still out on markets and money," Mitchell said. "That's the key right now.
"This being the third year of a pilot project, hopefully, there will be some good, lucrative markets this winter," he said. "We'll have to wait and see what's going to happen."
The state of agriculture in Franklin County isn't all grey skies, Mitchell noted.
Franklin County farmers have been at the forefront of efforts to better connect growers with end users.
There is a Visit NC Farms application that connects residents directly with growers in the region.
White Level farmer Leo Stallings has been featured in a video about his collaboration with Farm Table restaurant in Wake Forest.
Customers who go to that restaurant can download an app that features Stallings farm and the products he provides, helping the restaurant with local food and educating people about his farm.
Mitchell noted that the county's farmers market, even with its limitations of location and signage, continues to be a local food resource for residents.
And, the county will celebrate its Farm City Week luncheon -- which observes the relationship between the agriculture community and its urban counterparts -- on Nov. 1.
And, finally, the county is in the midst of updating its comprehensive development plan -- a report that will help the county set policies for growth for the next 20 years.
"Everything we've talked about with agriculture will be important going forward," Mitchell said.