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Five Generation Farming Family Fights to Carry on

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WILSON — Farmers are facing their worst financial crisis in more than a decade with profits expected to drop 16 percent this year. It will be a lean season for local farmers who are feeling the crunch from failing economies world-wide.

"We're looking at a short-term thing. This began to materialize a few months ago, and it's already beginning to take its toll on farms not only in North Carolina, but nationwide," farmer Pender Sharp said.

It is hard to believe that a peaceful 1,800 acre farm in Wilson County is so dependent on shifting economic fortunes overseas. It is a frightening prospect for farmers like Sharp, whose family has worked the same land for five generations.

"When we have a world economy that's taking a downturn like in Asia for instance, those guys just aren't purchasing here like they were in the past," Sharp said.

Farmers say next year grain crops like soybeans, wheat and corn will sell for less than it costs to grow them. Tobacco is still the state's number one cash crop, but allotments have been reduced and are likely to be cut again. As farmers try to plan for the 1999 growing season, they are left with few options.

"Vegetables are not very stable," farmer Thad Sharp said. "If you get a good crop in Florida or California it can hurt you pretty bad here. Tobacco's the only thing we've got that year in and year out keeps the bills paid."

As a member of his family's youngest generation, Thad Sharp must help decide how to keep paying the bills without relying on tobacco crops. He is not certain that he will be able to pass along the farm that has been in his family for decades.

"There's no telling what I'm going to see over the next 25-30 years," he said. "Maybe I'll be farming that long."

Congressional Republicans approved $4.2 billion in emergency farm aid on Friday. In his radio address this morning, President Clinton asked them to boost that number to $7.5 billion.

Some musicians are singing the praises of the nation's farmers today

They're performing at Farm Aid '98 in Tinley Park, Illinois. Founders Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young are hosting the mega-concert. The all-star line-up includes Hootie and the Blowfish, Phish and Beach Boy Brian Wilson.