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Storms Endanger N.C. Tobacco Crops

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NASH COUNTY, N.C. — Many North Carolina farmers will be scrambling this weekend to save their storm-damaged tobacco crops. State agricultural leaders estimate the remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto plowed down up to 15,000 acres of tobacco across 12 counties.

Time is ticking for Nash County tobacco farmer Brent Leggett and his workers. This week's wind and rain pushed over most of the 200 acres of tobacco Leggett oversees. His workers have just a couple of days to save the stalks, by hand.

"We use a machine to harvest it with," said Leggett. "If the tobacco's crooked, we'll not harvest it. So, we're trying to stand it back up for that reason."

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    Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler saw the problems for farmers in an aerial tour Thursday. In years past, the state turned to prison inmates to help farmers right the crop. After Tropical Storm Bonnie in 1998, prisoners were sent to the fields.

    However, it takes an emergency declaration to make that happen. Gov. Mike Easley hasn't made that call this time. Easley's office said state damage estimates don't rise to the level of an official emergency.

    When asked whether he thinks the governor should make the declaration, Troxler said, "That's above my pay grade."

    Even with a declaration, Troxler said there aren't enough inmates to go around.

    "I would be real concerned about the equity situation and who actually got the inmates to work on the farm and how to make it fair," he said.

    Farmers like Leggett plan to work through the weekend to try and save the tobacco.

    "If you don't do something with this, you're going to have an absolute disaster," Leggett said.

    Those who can't find enough help may lose much of their crop. The financial impact on farmers could run into the millions of dollars. Troxler also pointed out the hot sun is not helping in the recovery. It can also be damaging to tobacco after a storm.


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