Georgia’s tobacco acreage is expected to hold steady this year, thanks to a new buyer in the state and high demand in Asia.

Tobacco acreage has been dropping for two decades. Experts expected fewer acres of the crop to be planted this year, but now estimates from the U.S. Agriculture Department project Georgia farmers will plant about 11,000 acres of tobacco, the same amount as last year.

In part, the cause is a new company that has contracted with Georgia growers for their tobacco, saying it is bound for Asian markets.

“What it has brought is a renewed sense of hope on the part of tobacco growers, some of whom had reached the end of their multi-year contracts with another company,” said J. Michael Moore, a tobacco agronomist at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

Moore said he hopes the steady production signals the end of the decades of decline.

“Our hope is that the level of tobacco production and Chesterfield cigarettes has reached the bottom of the slope and that we will trend to be more level, if not increase over time,” he said.

Moore said conditions have been good for growing tobacco recently, and farmers haven’t seen much of a virus that has attacked Georgia’s crop since 1985.

“We’re having a very good production season this year – second year in a row,” Moore said. “We have very low levels of tomato spotted wilt virus, so our losses and our reduction in quality will be minimum this year because of that disease.”

Georgia’s tobacco industry was worth more than $47 million last year. Near its peak in 1996, the state’s tobacco crop was worth more than $200 million.