Garrard tobacco farmers say they're ready for government buyout

August 29, 2003|PHIL PENDLETON

LANCASTER - David Foley says he's been growing tobacco for 20 years, having cut his first crop when he was 10.

"I've been doing it all my life," he said. But the Garrard farmer is among many who cannot wait for a buyout plan to be approved in Washington, D.C. "I wish they would buy it out. It gets aggravating every year, the way they (the federal government) keeps taking it from us and giving us nothing for it. At least we'll get a little something," he said.

Foley said he and his father grow about 23 acres of tobacco a year, but he said they used to grow twice that much. He said cuts in quota have hurt them. "They took right at 60 percent of it... when you add all of it together. They say they haven't taken that much, but they have."

Henry West of Paint Lick is among those watching developments of the buyout proposals both from home, as a tobacco farmer, and in Washington, as president of the Lexington based Burley Tobacco Cooperative. "It (the buyout) needs to happen," he said. "A lot of farmers are hurting."


West is optimistic a plan will be approved. Currently there are at least two proposals, one being pushed by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Senate plan is based on farmers' 2002 quota, which is the amount of leaf the federal government allows farmers to grow. A plan introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) would pay growers and quota holders based on their 1998 quotas. Both would pay $8 per pound to quota holders and $4 to growers. "Fletcher's plan is the best," said West.

Farmers should receive $12 a pound "if they would do us right," said Foley. "But they ain't gonna do us right. I'd say $8 to $10 would be fair." Foley said if he grew 20,000 pounds and received $10 a pound, he could receive $200,000. But he said he's heard that payments would be given over a 10- to 12-year span.

It's not known exactly how much each farmer will receive all together, because West said a wide variety of schemes exist pertaining to how much tobacco each person grows. But he figures the average farmer could receive about $10,000 a year. "It's not a large amount of money," he said. "But it will help them transition to other things, whether they want to build a barn or buy some machinery."

Foley said he might look to expand his livestock. "Probably cattle. It will be everybody's number one (thing) to go to, I imagine. They can make tobacco patches into alfalfa fields."

West said it will be tough for both measures to get through their respective chambers. "Hopefully there will be a compromise." Not everyone is so optimistic.

Donald Lear doesn't think a buyout plan will pass, and says he believes it's all based on politics. "After the governor's race, you won't hear anything more about it."

But Bob Ballard believes in the plan.

"I think it's great because some of us old ones are going to quit anyway and let the young ones have it all."

Despite the plan being a "buy out," it doesn't mean that all farmers will paided off to give up their right to grow tobacco. "All the bills are designed to move the tobacco production to the people who actually grow it," said West. "Those who are leasing out will receive their compensation and be through."

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