Local News

Tobacco Farmers Plant Seeds for the Future

Posted May 10, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Tobacco is taking a beating from politicians and cigarette companies, and many farmers are looking for new ways to make a living.

Growers are using some creative ideas to keep food on everyone's table, including yours.

Jack Smith is growing less tobacco and still making ends meet. The Wayne County farmer is selling strawberries and vegetables directly to consumers.

"Different things are going to work for different people, and you just have to get out there and see what will work for you if you're going to try to stay," said Smith.

Smith offered a tour to show tobacco growers that there are alternatives. He is quick to admit that nothing pays close to what tobacco does.

A typical tobacco farm can gross about $4,000 per acre while a crop like corn brings in less than $200. The non-profit Rural Advancement Foundation is helping farmers look for options that do not break the bank.

"We're trying to look at a way to find ways to increase the value of what they're already doing instead of looking for a new crop or a magic crop," said Gerry Cohn of the RAFI-Tobacco Project.

Farmer John Dunn built several hog houses and chicken houses to keep his profits in check, but the idea of giving up on tobacco is not easy.

"Nothing is going to take the place of tobacco; not on the farming end of it. The grain, it isn't doing anything. There is nothing much but tobacco that a farmer can depend on," said Dunn.

Not every farm can grow strawberries or vegetables and make a living, but some can. Farmers say now is the time to decide which direction they will take before their options dry up.

Many farmers say they have to grow tobacco to pay off their debts and keep their operations running.

Nearly everyone who is cutting back on tobacco is keeping a few acres of the golden leaf around until other crops prove to be reliable.