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Farmers See The Bright Side Of Their Bright Leaf

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WILSON — In the midst of a booming economy, North Carolina has lost more than 14,000 tobacco-related jobs in the past year.

Lower demand and multi-billion dollar law suits have contributed to that loss, but as markets open, tobacco farmers are looking on the bright side.

"I want you to know one thing. Tobacco does have a future in North Carolina and this country," saidJim Graham,N.C. Department of Agriculturecommissioner.

The opening of the Eastern Belt Tobacco Market in Wilson sounded more like a pep rally.

"So perk up. We've got a lot of things going for us," said Graham.

In the last two years, farmers have seen the amount of tobacco they can sell cut by more than 30 percent.

A week's worth of market sales in other states offer farmers a bright side to their bright leaf.

"The thing that pleases me in this day of adversity is that very little tobacco is going into stabilization," said Graham.

That means more of the tobacco is being sold rather than being held in the farmers' cooperative.

Nash County grower Ed Bissette says success in the market may depend on farmers going the extra mile to produce a premium crop.

"It certainly pays the farmer to keep the green out and put a pretty product on the floor if they want to get the money this year," said Bissette.

Along with a better product, farmers are looking for better ways to package their product. More growers and warehouses are forsaking the old burlap sheets of tobacco for square bales.

They are more efficient for marketing, transporting and storing. They may also bring a premium price.

"I've got a baler, and I plan to bale all mine if it's justifiable in price," said Bissette.

So far, baled tobacco is earning 2 to 5 cents per pound more than tobacco in sheets.

Central North Carolina and Virginia tobacco markets will open next Tuesday.