Sunday, July 18, 2004

Tobacco farmers in Ohio cut back

1 reason: Possible buyout from Congress

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A dramatic drop in the value of tobacco and a possible buyout being mulled by Congress are factors in Ohio farmers' decisions to find alternatives to the crop.

"We'll never be able to fully recover," said tobacco farmer Todd Raines. "But it's the uncertainty of it that people are ready to put behind them. You never know what's going to happen from one year to the next."

The U.S. Senate approved a plan Thursday that would pay tobacco farmers nationwide $12 billion to give up federal quotas limiting how much tobacco they can sell. That also would effectively end price controls.

Ohio produced nearly 10 million pounds of tobacco worth about $17.2 million in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The state is the eighth-largest producer in the country. In 1997, the state's crop was worth $34.3 million.

Much of Ohio's tobacco is grown in southern counties along the Ohio River. The decrease in production already is being felt there. Brown County, for example, grew 2.8 million pounds in 2000 compared with 7.96 million three years earlier.

Raines' family already has started raising livestock and opened a greenhouse to diversify. And 58-year-old Bill Faught, who once grew 150,000 pounds of tobacco a year in Brown County, now produces about 7,000 pounds. He said it's a combination of his age and regulations.

"It was the government. And it was my own doing," he said. "Tobacco farming requires 900 man-hours per acre. It's not like it used to be."

He supports the changes Congress is considering. The House has passed similar legislation, although the amount of the buyout and who pays for it differ from the Senate version.

"To me, it's worth it just to get all the regulations out of there," he said.

Raines also is in favor of lifting the production quotas and letting farmers fend for themselves.

"After this, I could grow 100 pounds or 100,000 pounds," he said.

But Guy Roberts, a member of the board of directors for the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, said the loss of price supports could be a major problem.

"Farmers could get 15 cents a pound for tobacco," he said. "You just don't know."

The federal legislation has benefited from an unusual alliance of tobacco growers and anti-smoking groups who like another portion of the bill that would allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco.

"It's way past due for this type of thing to happen," said Shelly Kiser, program manager for Tobacco Free Ohio.

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