HARNETT COUNTY, N.C. — North Carolina tobacco farmers and quota holders will get billions of dollars thanks to the federal buyout approved in Congress.
Should they take the money and keep farming or should they take the money and run? As tobacco farmers weigh their options, it is the small family farmers who face the toughest decision.
It is as if the government has opened a door and given farmers such as Kent Revels the financial freedom to get out of tobacco. It is the getting out that is hard.
"This is all I've ever done, so, yeah, it's a big change," he said.
Sixty years ago, the government put a tobacco plan in place consisting of price supports. Farmers essentially knew the amount of money they would get for the tobacco they grew.
In the past few years, the government began cutting that amount, the farmer's quota, because there was not as much demand. Companies were buying tobacco overseas at a cheaper rate.
"And that was going to cause great problems for the farmers in the future. We were headed for a catastrophe," said Larry Wooten of the North Carolina Farm Bureau.
"It's just got to where it's not a profitable crop," Revels said.
The buyout gives farmers money for their tobacco, but it also changes the landscape.
"The quota system is gone, the allotment system is gone. Now it will be up to the companies to set the price," Revels said.
So is there room for small tobacco farmers?
"Well, I think the little guy has a good chance of getting a contract with one of the cigarette companies as the bigger guy," Wooten said.
Revels said he will not quit.
"The estimate that I'm hearing is that close to 50 percent of the farmers that are actively growing tobacco now will quit," he said.
The government's quota system had a major effect on North Carolina tobacco farmers. It cut their output, and consequently, their income. They produced 200 million fewer pounds of tobacco between 1992 and 2002.
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