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N.C. Farmers Uncertain After National Tobacco Deal

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ROXBORO — A national tobacco settlement is signed and sealed, but what does it deliver? For North Carolina it means billions. Attorney General Mike Easley helped broker the deal, and Monday he signed it.

The settlement outlines payments for medical care and advertising restrictions, but fails to mention the uncertain future of tobacco farmers.

Easley says tobacco settlement money will trickle down to North Carolina farmers. But, the growers say they think the flow will stop long before it reaches the farm.

Farmers have strong reactions to what was announced at the tobacco settlement news conference Monday.

Arnold Whitfield did not go to the news conference. Along with his brother Bruce, he cleared plant beds for next year's tobacco seedlings. The Whitfields, have been in the tobacco fields all their lives.

They do not expect any of North Carolina's share of the settlement to make it to their Person County farm.

"Oh yes, I'd like some help out here, especially if the price support program is done away with. But I don't think any of that is gonna happen. I hope we can keep the whole thing pretty much like it is now," said tobacco farmer Arnold Whitfield.

Some farmers doubt they'll see any settlement money. Some think it's degrading.

"I don't want a hand-out. I just wanna keep making a living raising tobacco," said Whitfield.

Another issue bothering growers is the suggestion that settlement money be used to develop alternative crops.

"What alternative crop? That's always the question. So many other crops, but as a general rule, once a few people get into them, that's just the end of it," said tobacco farmer Bruce Whitfield.

"I think virtually every tobacco grower would just want to be left alone, but I think all of us have to recognize we all play in the arena that revolves around supply and demand," said Robeson County Agricultural Agent Everett Davis.

And that supply and demand curve is simple. Nearly everything in the tobacco deal pushes for a decrease in tobacco use. With less demand, farmers profits will almost certainly go down.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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