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Tobacco Quotas Set

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Farmers must sell 17 percent less tobacco next year, according to 1998's federal flue-cured tobacco quota.
WILSON COUNTY — 1998 will be a tough year for tobacco farmers in North Carolina. So saysNorth Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday reduced the federalflue-cured tobacco quota for 1998 to 807.6 million pounds -- about 17percent less than this year's quota of 973.8 million pounds.

The quota reduction was not a surprise, given a decrease in demand in thewake of the proposed national tobacco settlement. Also, large amounts ofthe golden leaf are sitting around in warehouses, still unsold.

Farms all over North Carolina are quiet right now as December breezes blowthrough empty fields. But, next year's tobacco crop is on the mind ofnearly every farmer, including Wilson County's Pender Sharp.

Farmers grew extra flue-cured tobacco this year to make upfor a shortagefrom the 1996 season.But that growth created a surplus.Next year's limit should keep prices from dropping, according to extensionagent Norman Harrell.

But that leads to off years like this one, where a farmer's profits arecapped.That lower income forces growers to spend less at area businesses. James Finch says that his car dealership's success depends heavily on how areafarmers are faring.

Luckily for farmers, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickmandecided to soften would could have been a 20 percent decrease in the quota. North Carolina agricultural officials had estimated that a 20percent reduction could cost the state's economy $200 million to $300million.

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