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Tobacco Farmers Wait To See How Much They Can Grow Next Season

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WILSON — Tobacco farmers are on edge as cigarette companies decide how much tobacco they plan to buy next season. Farmers are particularly interested in what the companies will do in light of the recent settlement.

If the cigarette companies plan to buy a large amount of tobacco next year, farmers can grow more and make more money.

Farmers like Pender Sharp of Wilson County want to know how much they can grow next season.

If the government cuts the allotment again this year, growers will lose money.

"In terms of what it does to income, it would be just like any other person taking a five, 10, 15, 20 percent cut in their salaries, and that's what it equates to on the farm level," said Sharp.

The timing is unusual because tobacco growers and cigarette companies are at odds right now over the industry's future.

Both acknowledge that the American tobacco market is drying up, but they disagree on how to jump start the market overseas.

Big tobacco has offered a $5 billion settlement to compensate growers for future losses.

Farmers say $12 billion is more realistic. And they could then charge less for their crop, making tobacco easier to sell overseas.

Big tobacco has said no, but growers are still hoping for an agreement.

"It's a great opportunity to correct some of the ills within our industry, and we feel that if the right decisions are made now, we can get on some sound footing for some very good years ahead," said Sharp.

The allotment will officially be announced on Dec. 15.