Quotas Leave Tobacco Farmers Uncertain
Posted September 14, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT
WILSON — All of us work hard to pay the bills, but imagine being told you would have to work just as hard for less money. That is a predicament some tobacco farmers expect to be in next year, because lower incomes are a very real possibility in tobacco country.
The sound of higher prices is welcome news for tobacco growers across North Carolina. Right now the best leaves are making their way to the warehouse floor.
But a lot of this year's crop has been put into the government's reserve program, because cigarette companies did not want it. Under federal quota regulations, if enough tobacco does not sell, farmers will be forced to grow less next year. That means lower incomes, and it makes planning almost impossible.
"It just keeps you where you don't know where to go hardly, and this makes it hard on you when you can't make any plans for another year," explained Wilson tobacco farmer Carl Murphy.
Farmers are already dealing with a 17 percent drop in this year's growing limit. Thousands of people who make money directly or indirectly are dreading the possibility of another dip next year.
"Our quotas are cut automatically when the farmer's quotas are cut, and so it directly affects us and the amount we can sell, so we certainly need all the help we can get," explained warehouse owner Kenneth Kelley.
Many people believe that selling North Carolina's leaf in foreign countries is the best way to insure its survival. In fact, one congressman says China should be required to put the state's leaf on its open market before expanding some diplomatic ties.
Farmers say North Carolina tobacco is always in demand. The hard part is finding the buyers and the price they need to protect their future.
Some farmers see Asia as a boom market for U.S. tobacco. China grows and uses more tobacco than any country in the world, but its quality is much lower than the plants grown in North Carolina.