Local News

Tobacco Farmers Make Hay to Find Alternatives

Posted December 3, 1998 6:00 a.m. EST

— Some economists say North Carolina's tobacco economy could lose billions of dollars a year due to the recent settlement between tobacco companies and 46 states.

Mark Massengill is one of many tobacco growers who have seen the political storm warnings and are looking for ways to be less dependent on the golden leaf.

Massengill spent Friday telling other farmers what he's learned about the hay market. He believes wise marketing of new crops like hay will help him survive the declining market for tobacco.

"I hope actually that I can find some markets and find a good enough living, maybe even before tobacco is totally gone, that I won't have to worry about tobacco," Massengill says.

Massengill and his father received a $10,000 grant to help them add value to their non-tobacco crops. The money paid for a new hay baler and new soybean storage bins.

RAFI, a non-profit group, chooses the grant recipients based on proposals farmers submit.

Gerry Cohn, a spokesperson for RAFI, explains the benefits. "I think what it's done is allowed them to be checking out new markets," he says. "It's allowed them to take that first step and just start looking into areas that they haven't been able to explore before."

The Massengills see the money as an opportunity to keep their family farming tradition alive.

The younger Massengill says "I'm an optimistic person and I believe that we'll find a way to stay on the farm and that's what I hope for... to be able to find a way to make a living doing what I enjoy, and that's farming."

In its second year, the Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund has helped ten farm families in North Carolina.