SMITHFIELD, N.C. — The state's tobacco industry is struggling. It has been for years.
A buyout plan to dissolve the old tobacco price support program and compensate farmers and quota holders is still stuck in Congress. A campaign to get it moving again took off Tuesday in Johnston County.
A standing-room-only crowd came to a tobacco warehouse in Smithfield to send Washington a message.
"Something's got to be done," said tobacco grower David Key, of Surry County. "Because, if not, we're done."
Key and others want Congress to pass a tobacco "buyout." It would compensate farmers for their investment over the years and provide a retirement safety net for quota holders.
Without a buyout, the group said, more than just farmers will suffer.
"It's going to affect our churches, our ag businesses," said Keith Parrish, president of the National Tobacco Growers' Association. "They're already so negatively impacted; they're teetering on the edge of disaster."
According to bankers and farm creditors, the state's farm economy is at stake. If farmers cannot pay for equipment, then loans fall through.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole will take the testimony to Congress to convince senators from non-tobacco states that the issue is about more than just cigarettes.
"I want to lead a campaign to educate people about how this affects farm families," Dole said Tuesday.
It also affects the banks and businesses that depend on their success.
"The need for a tobacco buyout may be urgent for those in the tobacco industry. But with a short session in Congress and this being an election year, many understand that getting a decision out of Washington before next year will be an uphill climb.
Tobacco growers are growing less than half of what they grew in 1997. Economists predict that another 30-percent cut is likely next year.