During the next few days, more and more of the tobacco fields along N.C. highways will be filled with new plants, but, as always, the first day of planting is tempered by the risks of the business. This year's primary foes are the negotiations in Washington, and the tobacco quotas nationwide. To keep prices up, this year's quota demands that farmers grow 17 percent less tobacco.
Tobacco farmer Pender Sharp says that means less money for a lot of people besides farmers.
Simply put, if tobacco brings in about the same price as it did last year, farmers will make 17 percent less money this year. No matter how good this year's crop is, growers are only allowed to grow and sell so much.
If prices stay consistent in Wilson County, farmers there will make about $30 million less than they did last year, and that's money they'd be spending with local merchants such as auto dealer Tom Vick.
In spite of the loss, farmers will put all they have into this year's crop, knowing that making money in the future may be even tougher than it is today.
Because the tobacco quota can go up or down every year, farmers say they try to keep money in the bank to make up for off years such as this one. Many will plant sweet potatoes, cotton or some other crops to soften the blow.
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