Local News

Tobacco Quotas Set

Posted December 15, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— 1998 will be a tough year for tobacco farmers in North Carolina. So says North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham.

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

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

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

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

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

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