SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (AP) — It's harvest time in much of the nation's tobacco patches and this year's harvest is expected to be among the smallest in at least a decade.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says farmers are expected to produce 726 million pounds of tobacco.
That's up 1 percent from 2010, but down nearly 28 percent from a decade ago when more than 991 million pounds made its way into cigarettes and other products.
Tax hikes, bans, health concerns and social stigma have driven a decline in cigarette sales, but the drop is less stark outside the U.S. Growing markets like Asia are offsetting worldwide declines and contributing greatly to U.S. exports.
Still, experts say this season could be crucial in determining whether tobacco farmers stay in the dwindling and costly business.