07/16/04 — Farmers, politicians hope leaf buyout will become reality

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Farmers, politicians hope leaf buyout will become reality

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on July 16, 2004 2:00 PM

North Carolina farmers and politicians offering their reaction to a new congressional initiative to buy out tobacco growers and quota holders were universal in their hope that the goal was in sight.

It will be a new day in rural North Carolina when the government buys out of the tobacco program, says Wayne County farmer Jerry West.

He also is in favor of the FDA regulating tobacco.

The tobacco farmer needs the FDA regulations, he said, "to stop the importation of all that junk tobacco."

The FDA regulations are the right thing to do morally, he added. "The American public's health needs the FDA. Tobacco products are questionable enough when we're doing the best job we and the manufacturers can do. Without the regulations, God only knows what would be put out there."

West said he doesn't expect hordes of FDA inspectors to show up on farms.

The buyout will allow some of the tobacco growers to get out with dignity, he said. They would be able to pay their bills and retire or find another crop to grow or another business to start.

"It will put $6 billion into the North Carolina economy over the next 10 years," he said. "For the growers who choose to stay in production, it will help us be competitive in the world market. We can grow a lot more tobacco. We can buy more tractors, build more barns and hire more people. We can do those things that are good for the economy of North Carolina."

Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole voted in favor of the plan as a way to claim back sales of low-cost tobacco grown in China and elsewhere, and to prevent farm foreclosures in rural communities.

"As our farmers and rural communities reach for a lifeline, we must help them," she said. "We must pass this crucial legislation."

"This is a good day for North Carolina's farmers," Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., said in a statement. He and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry missed the tobacco buyout vote as they campaigned for the White House. Edwards is Kerry's vice presidential nominee.

U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is bidding to succeed Edwards in the Senate, said the upcoming House-Senate negotiations "should prove to be interesting and will no doubt be contentious."

Erskine Bowles, the Democrat running for Edwards' Senate seat, said he had lobbied senators to approve the measure they passed Thursday.

"We are one step closer to saving our tobacco communities, which have suffered from years of devastating quota cuts," Bowles said. "Thanks to bipartisan support and an enormous effort behind the scenes by many people, a tobacco quota buyout bill passed the U.S. Senate."

Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., a tobacco farmer himself, said farmers must keep pressure on senators to be sure a buyout is finally approved by a conference committee that will try to resolve the differences in House and Senate bills.