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Heavy Rains Damage Area Tobacco Crops

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NASH COUNTY, N.C. — On Wednesday, crews rushed to get the first of Ernest Winstead's tobacco crop ready to go to market this week. There are still dozens of acres left to harvest over the next few months. Winstead hopes it lasts.

"We've had too much rain at one time," he said.

Weeks of heavy downpours damaged lower leaves and left diseased crops. Winstead said he expects to lose about 15 percent of this year's crop.

Last year, dry weather meant smaller crops. However, the opposite in weather patterns is creating its own headaches.

It's yet another challenge for farmers still relying on the golden leaf to pay the bills. The federal tobacco buyout, passed in 2004, gave some farmers the chance to stop growing and retire. Others planted more hoping, to cash in.

For many, this was the year to decide whether to take federal buyout money and stop growing. Several of Winstead's neighbors did.

"At my age, 49, (taking the buyout) would be mighty hard for me to do," said Winstead. "We've got to produce something, and nothing takes the place of tobacco."

In fact, he added 15 acres.

This year in Nash County alone, farmers planted a little more than 9,000 acres of tobacco. That's actually an increase of about 28 percent from last year.

"We're just going to keep trying," said Winstead. "The only thing we know how to do is raise tobacco."

Winstead is a fourth generation tobacco farmer. He has two sons, one in college, and he hopes at least one will join the family business.

It's still too early to tell what the buyout or the weather will mean for this season. Many of the larger tobacco markets will open for sale in August. Farmers expect to continue harvesting into September.


Mike Charbonneau, Reporter
Dana Franks, Web Editor

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