Tobacco Buyout Worth Billions to Farmers - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

07/19/04

Tobacco Buyout Worth Billions to Farmers

Washington's considering scrapping the tobacco support system that started in the 1930s. A conference committee in Washington began debate today on the multibillion dollar buyout.

Farmers have traditionally paid for their place in the tobacco market. This buyout would pay them for what they stand to lose and what they've already lost.

Farmer Cale Blocker is watching the quota buyout debate in Washington as closely as he watches his tobacco crop. He's wandered through the fields since he's been able to walk. "I actually started buying quota when I was a senior in high school," he said. "I bought quota before I was old enough to buy tobacco in stores."

But quota, the ticket to sell in a restricted market, has been cut in half the past six years. Farmers want compensation for their lost commodity. With different buyout plans now passed through the Senate and House, a committee from both chambers must iron out the differences.

That could bring $9 billion to $12 billion to tobacco growers and quota holders through fees on cigarette sales. "Everybody is under the impression we're going to pocket this money and go to the beach, but really we need this money to pay off the investment," Blocker said.

If the buyout goes through, farmers face the decision to get bigger or get out. Blocker says the buyout would consolidate the crop with fewer farmers raising more.

While tobacco has been his family's cash crop for three generations, he's not certain how long it will continue. He says he expects any compromise to happen in the next six weeks.

The President has already promised to sign so farmers are now just one step away.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com

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