RALEIGH, N.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced the 2004 quota for flue-cured tobacco will be 471.3 million pounds, which is a 10.8 percent cut from last year, but it is half the original expected cut of nearly 22 percent. It is one of the major economic hurdles that farmers in North Carolina will have to contend with.
As Britt Cobb was
sworn in Monday
as the new state Agriculture commissioner, one of the major problems he will have to deal with is the wilting tobacco quota. North Carolina's cash crop has been chopped in half in the past six years.
"If you take all these declines together, it's been pretty rough on farmers," said Lioniel Edwards, of Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative.
"We're going to have to diversify greater. We're going to have to do more to add value to what we're producing, so that our farmers can reap the rewards and not ship our products out of state for further processing," Cobb said.
Cobb said a federal buyout of that tobacco quota can foster that diversification. Congress turned it down this year, but Cobb plans to fight for it again in 2004.
"It will be one of the most important economic stimulus for North Carolina," he said.
"Farmers are, right now, very concerned about their livelihood and about the program. They're hoping very much to get the buyout and try something else," Edwards said.
The tobacco quota has been on a rough ride the past couple of years. Back in 1997, farmers were allowed to grow almost a billion pounds of tobacco. Huge cuts followed in 1998, 1999 and 2000 when the quota dropped by 440 million pounds. In 2001 and 2002, the quota actually went up before continuing its downward spiral.