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Tobacco Farmers Picking Up The Pieces -- And Tobacco Plants -- After Bertha

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GOLD ROCK — July 19, 1996 - 2:35 p.m. EDT

Hurricane Bertha's timing couldn't have been worse for farmers in the East. Early estimates show $200 million in crop damage.

But some tobacco farmers may be able to save a portion of their crops -- if they can find the labor. It's a problem Gov. Jim Hunt is trying to address, and one that may depend upon the help of strangers.

"See how this is all blown over here, and you got to push it back up, and stomp down there to get that stalk back up," says Jimmy Ward, a Nash County farmer in the Gold Rock community. "And they'll stay pretty good unless we have another wind."

The first wind that came through Ward's land on July 13 had a name: Bertha. The hurricane flattened most crops of farmers further east. Ward at least has hope that his crop can be saved.

He's already spent $41 dollars an acre to get his 40 acres of tobacco propped back up.

Leaning stalks will cause problems for mechanical harvesters, meaning that this year's harvest may have to be picked by hand.

"I can't find the labor to get it done right," Ward said.

It's a concern that's reached all the way to the governor's office.

We're trying to get people to pitch in and help their neighbors," Hunt said. "We're gonna be looking to bring in more migrant labor from out of state where we absolutely need it, where we can't find local people."

But where hired help can't be found, the governor is appealing to the kindness of neighbors.

"If we've ever seen a time when we need to pull together and help each other, it's right now," Hunt said. "And if we do, we can get out of this better than perhaps we thought.

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