Heat Breaks Hearts, Pocketbooks
Posted July 18, 1998
CLINTON — These are tough times for farmers in Sampson County. The long, hot summer has destroyed many of their crops.
For many farmers, the only hope of turning a profit -- or just breaking even -- depends entirely on saving their tobacco crops.
Mac Sutton looks dejectedly at his corn crop. "He ain't nothing. He ain't even got any kernels on it," he says of one cob, but typical of the field.
The corn Mac Sutton planted in the spring is diseased and withered now. Some stalks are so dry, they've snapped in half.
He'll be lucky if he can pick 20 of the 65 acres of corn he tends.
"I see a lot of money just thrown away," he says. "A lot of time and a lot of work. There won't be any return from it."
Susan Powell also lost most of her vegetable crops this year. She has to buy from other growers to stock her produce stand. The cost gets passed along to her customers.
"Pricewise, this is the most people have had to pay here for anything that I can remember in years," she says.
Even if it started raining right now, it would be too late to save corn and some other crops.
Instead, the sun keeps beating down on fields that are already scorched, leaving little hope that conditions will improve later in the season.
Many farmers are resigned to praying for rain and trying to do the best they can with what crop is left.
Farmers like Sutton are focusing now on tobacco -- their biggest cash crop.
Because tobacco plants are hardier, they are more likely to recover from the drought. Sutton is hopeful it can make up for his other losses.
"If we can make any money on tobacco, it'll have to come over and help take the bills off of this corn," he says.
Quotas were cut this year, so farmers are growing 17 percent less tobacco -- 17 percent less of their most profitable crop.