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Lee County Farmer Victim of Crop Sabotage

The state Department of Agriculture and sheriff's deputies are investigating after a farmer returned home from vacation to discover someone had poisoned his tobacco plants.

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SANFORD, N.C. — The state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services and sheriff's deputies are investigating a case of tobacco sabotage at a Lee County farm.

John Gross has been watching the growth in his greenhouse of what eventually would be 150 acres of tobacco plants. Around this time, he usually is transporting his plants from the greenhouse to the field, but this year his crop is ruined.

"We almost pulled our hair out trying to figure out why," Gross said.

When Gross returned from vacation last month, he noticed a concrete block that usually holds the greenhouse door shut had been moved. He later noticed his plants were dying.

Gross asked state agriculture officials to investigate. They determined someone had put a toxic chemical on his tobacco plants.

"They went all the way down one side and all the way down the other side" of the greenhouse, Gross said.

While tests are being done to determine what chemical was used, deputies are trying to find the person responsible.

"We're not sure if it's something personal or a competitor at this time," said Capt. Jeff Johnson, with the Lee County Sheriff"s Office.

Gross estimated that losing his plants will cost him $50,000.

"I haven't done anything to anybody. I haven't had any trouble with any neighbors. I don't know. I'm at a loss," he said.

Gross has insurance, but he said it only covers crops already planted in the field. However, his farm owner's insurance may cover some of the loss.

The sheriff is offering a reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. Anyone with information about the incident should call the Lee County Sheriff's Office at 919-718-4563.


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