Agustin Ramirez, a tobacco picker for the Mitchell twins, looks to deliver his handful of tobacco on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve Mitchell and his twin brother David are tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.  After a decade of trepidation, blindly feeling for their footing in a market prone to wild swings, the confidence of tobacco farmers has surged this year, as the last vestiges of the old era fade away. According to statistics from the Virginia Cooperative Extension, farmers in Pittsylvania and Franklin counties have planted, and are currently harvesting, more acres of flue-cured tobacco than in any year since the free market conditions took effect a decade ago.

Agustin Ramirez, a tobacco picker for the Mitchell twins, looks to deliver his handful of tobacco on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve Mitchell and his twin brother David are tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.

After a decade of trepidation, blindly feeling for their footing in a market prone to wild swings, the confidence of tobacco farmers has surged this year, as the last vestiges of the old era fade away. According to statistics from the Virginia Cooperative Extension, farmers in Pittsylvania and Franklin counties have planted, and are currently harvesting, more acres of flue-cured tobacco than in any year since the free market conditions took effect a decade ago.

 Steve Mitchell, 60, watches his hired workers pick tobacco on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve and his twin brother David are tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.

Steve Mitchell, 60, watches his hired workers pick tobacco on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve and his twin brother David are tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.

 A tobacco picker for the Mitchell twins holds a handful of tobacco on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve Mitchell and his twin brother David are tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.   

A tobacco picker for the Mitchell twins holds a handful of tobacco on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve Mitchell and his twin brother David are tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.

 

 Steve Mitchell, 60, left, and his twin brother David, work together to transport their tobacco to curing barns on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve and his twin brother David are third generation tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.

Steve Mitchell, 60, left, and his twin brother David, work together to transport their tobacco to curing barns on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve and his twin brother David are third generation tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.

 The clothing of tobacco pickers lay to hang dry inside of a hot house on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve Mitchell and his twin brother David are third generation tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.

The clothing of tobacco pickers lay to hang dry inside of a hot house on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Steve Mitchell and his twin brother David are third generation tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.

  Taylor Ray Amos, 28, spends some time with his children, Walker, ten months old, and Taylee, five years old, in the morning at home before he heads out to work.    Taylor Ray Amos never seriously considered making his living off of anything but tobacco. Growing up in the southeastern fields of Franklin County, it was all around him, a craft and a lifestyle passed down through both sides of his family tree. But by the time he was in high school, his relatives were getting out of the business.  It was 2001 when Amos’ great-grandfather died and his grandfather decided to quit. The government price support system, which had created relative stability since the 1930s, was being phased out. By 2004, the “quotas” that had governed how much tobacco each property owner or farmer could produce annually had been bought out, the industry returned to a free market system, even as payments resulting from the tectonic shift continued until this month.  Amos, 28, set out on his own in 2007, never personally experiencing the dynamics of the quota system. Instead, he has experimented and adjusted in hopes of creating the type of tobacco-growing operation that can succeed in the contemporary economy of the “Old Belt,” where fewer farmers are producing more tobacco, with an emphasis on quality. He has expanded his crop to 103 acres, aiming to place as much of it as possible into the top quality bracket of the cigarette companies’ rating system. And he’s not alone.

Taylor Ray Amos, 28, spends some time with his children, Walker, ten months old, and Taylee, five years old, in the morning at home before he heads out to work. 

Taylor Ray Amos never seriously considered making his living off of anything but tobacco. Growing up in the southeastern fields of Franklin County, it was all around him, a craft and a lifestyle passed down through both sides of his family tree. But by the time he was in high school, his relatives were getting out of the business.

It was 2001 when Amos’ great-grandfather died and his grandfather decided to quit. The government price support system, which had created relative stability since the 1930s, was being phased out. By 2004, the “quotas” that had governed how much tobacco each property owner or farmer could produce annually had been bought out, the industry returned to a free market system, even as payments resulting from the tectonic shift continued until this month.

Amos, 28, set out on his own in 2007, never personally experiencing the dynamics of the quota system. Instead, he has experimented and adjusted in hopes of creating the type of tobacco-growing operation that can succeed in the contemporary economy of the “Old Belt,” where fewer farmers are producing more tobacco, with an emphasis on quality. He has expanded his crop to 103 acres, aiming to place as much of it as possible into the top quality bracket of the cigarette companies’ rating system. And he’s not alone.

  Taylor Ray Amos, 28, checks the curing barns and adjusts the temperatures at the start of the day. 

Taylor Ray Amos, 28, checks the curing barns and adjusts the temperatures at the start of the day. 

 Taylor Ray Amos, 28, center, flips a bale of tobacco with temporary workers Jose Luis Galarza Zuniga, left, and Jose Manuel Hernandez Herrera, right, on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 to load onto a lift that will place it onto a trailer. Amos had about thirteen workers from Mexico helping him that morning, packing anywhere from 630 to 800 pounds of flue-cured tobacco in one bale. They made about 12 bales of tobacco in the morning before heading back into the field to pick more tobacco. He has about less than half of his tobacco fields to harvest.

Taylor Ray Amos, 28, center, flips a bale of tobacco with temporary workers Jose Luis Galarza Zuniga, left, and Jose Manuel Hernandez Herrera, right, on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 to load onto a lift that will place it onto a trailer. Amos had about thirteen workers from Mexico helping him that morning, packing anywhere from 630 to 800 pounds of flue-cured tobacco in one bale. They made about 12 bales of tobacco in the morning before heading back into the field to pick more tobacco. He has about less than half of his tobacco fields to harvest.

 Taylor Ray Amos, 28, pulls into where his flue-cured tobacco hangs in several barns. "I love what I do everyday. If you really love what you do, you never work a day in your life," he said. Amos continues a long tradition of raising tobacco in his family.

Taylor Ray Amos, 28, pulls into where his flue-cured tobacco hangs in several barns. "I love what I do everyday. If you really love what you do, you never work a day in your life," he said. Amos continues a long tradition of raising tobacco in his family.

 Taylor Ray Amos, 28, holds his son, Walker, ten months old, inside of a tractor while Amos works on baling flue-cured tobacco in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County. "Since I was 5 or 6 this was what I wanted to do. I didn't want to do anything else," Amos said. He says he'll give his son the freedom to do what he wants with his future, although Amos would fully support Walker if he ever decided to raise tobacco

Taylor Ray Amos, 28, holds his son, Walker, ten months old, inside of a tractor while Amos works on baling flue-cured tobacco in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County. "Since I was 5 or 6 this was what I wanted to do. I didn't want to do anything else," Amos said. He says he'll give his son the freedom to do what he wants with his future, although Amos would fully support Walker if he ever decided to raise tobacco

 Flue-cured tobacco is seen inside of a barn. The tobacco cures anywhere from eight to ten days and reaches temperatures of up to 160 degrees. Steve Mitchell and his twin brother David are tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.   

Flue-cured tobacco is seen inside of a barn. The tobacco cures anywhere from eight to ten days and reaches temperatures of up to 160 degrees. Steve Mitchell and his twin brother David are tobacco growers in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Virginia and raise 70 acres of flue-cured tobacco each year.

 

 Taylor Ray Amos, 28, packs up bales of flue-cured tobacco with temporary workers Joaquin Perez Medina, right, and Jose Luis Galarza Zuniga, center, onto a trailer for delivery to Danville.

Taylor Ray Amos, 28, packs up bales of flue-cured tobacco with temporary workers Joaquin Perez Medina, right, and Jose Luis Galarza Zuniga, center, onto a trailer for delivery to Danville.