Local News

Four Months of Farm Income, Twelve Months of Bills

Posted October 18, 1998

— The hard work farmers put in all year comes down to just a few weeks worth of paychecks. Now that the tobacco season is just days from ending, farmers have a pretty good idea of how much money they can use for debts or put in the bank.

If you think it is tough to balance the books around your house, try tobacco farming for a few years. The state's biggest cash crop is winding down, and farmers are getting a good idea of how much they have to spend during the off season.

If you have ever grumbled about getting paid once a month or every other week, meet Maxine Whitley. Like most people, she has bills to pay and has a family to support.

But 75 percent of her salary for the year comes between July and October. She will run her farm for months on the money she makes this fall.

"You have to have a lot of faith," explained Whitley. "You have to have some good creditors. It takes a big payroll to finance this crop."

Monday was a good day for farmers, because demand for tobacco is up. Some sheets brought a very good price at $1.91 per pound.

"It's been a long time coming," tobacco farmer Glenn Stancill said. "But for the last three weeks, it's been pretty good. The season is almost over, but in the earlier part of the season, prices weren't that good."

Prices can vary dramatically depending on what cigarette companies are willing to spend. Farmers have to be ready regardless, because nothing else pays as well as tobacco.

This business is called a big gamble for good reason. If the checks do not cover the bills, families are often forced to go deep in debt until next year.

"You never know it's going to be there," Whitley said. "It didn't start off good, selling that good this year. But in the end it was selling pretty good."

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