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Golden Leaf Farmers Hope for the Best

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The tobacco markets will yield good and bad results for area farmers.
RALEIGH — Economic issues are foremost on the minds of Tar Heel tobacco farmers this week. The markets open Wednesday. Farmers aren't sure what kind of money they'll take home for their crop.

For some farmers, the recent rains have helped save some of the tobacco leaves that will be harvested later this summer. What they're worried about now is the leaf they've already cured and prepared to take to the markets on Wednesday. They say all they're hoping for is a fair price and a profit.

"Tobacco farming is legalized gambling," says farmer Jackie Thompson. "We put everything we have-- our whole life, our whole investment-- on the line the beginning of every year, not knowing what's going to happen."

Thompson considers himself one of the lucky ones. Spotty rains during the long hot summer has turned out to be enough to yield a pretty good crop for him.

Thompson and other tobacco field workers prepare to take the golden leaves to market and begin to cure bunches of freshly cropped tobacco. With weather worries out of the way, he's now wondering what kind of price he'll get at the market.

"To be able to stand right here and share with you what's going to happen on Wednesday, I don't know," Thompson explains, "but one that can tell that, and that may be the good man above."

The golden leaves didn't earn the kind of market value Florida and Georgia farmers were hoping for. Those prices were lower than last year's, which could be a good predictor of what will happen to farmers like Thompson. Add to that the quota cuts that further restrict how much farmers are allowed to sell, and they're looking to big tobacco for help.

"We're hoping that the companies will help in this situation and give us a fair profit so that we can stay in business," Thompson says.

Thompson says the remainder of his crop is good enough to earn a top dollar of about $1.85 per pound. Last year's average was about $1.75 per pound. Thompson says the best hope lies in all of North Carolina's farmers showing good quality tobacco. That'll be difficult for some who were hit hard by the damaging hot weather.


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