10/08/04 — Tobacco bill pleases N.C. farmers, congressmen

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Tobacco bill pleases N.C. farmers, congressmen

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on October 8, 2004 2:00 PM

North Carolina congressmen and farmers celebrated the passage of a bill late Thursday that offers a $10.1 billion buyout of the tobacco quota that's expected to revive some rural parts of the state where tobacco once reigned.

"It was an overwhelming victory in an election year when tobacco had been a forbidden word in Washington," U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre told The Associated Press late Thursday, shortly after the House passed a rewrite of corporate tax law that included the buyout provision.

"We had to build quite a strong bipartisan coalition to get this done," the Democrat said. "We had been told we'd never get it through."

The buyout offers farmers money for their tobacco allotments -- the amount of tobacco they're allowed to grow under a Depression-era federal price support system that sets quotas based on buyers' intentions and the amount of tobacco in reserve.

"This is the most important change in agricultural policy in this new century," U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said in a statement. "And while this buyout isn't everything we would have wanted, it ends a long wait for resources our farmers truly need."

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Lillington Democrat and a tobacco farmer, said almost $4 billion from the buyout will flow into rural North Carolina during the next 10 years. North Carolina is the largest tobacco-growing state in the country.

"That money will jumpstart the economy, create jobs and opportunity, and give many debt-ridden tobacco growers an honest chance to survive," Etheridge said in a statement.

The agreement would end the federal tobacco program and provide for a buyout of $7 a pound for quota holders and $3 a pound for growers based on 2002 quota. After the buyout, U.S. tobacco would be produced in a completely free market, according to a press release from U.S. Rep. Walter Jones' office. The buyout would be paid for by an assessment on manufacturers and importers of tobacco products. The agreement does not allow for FDA regulation of tobacco products.

Tommy Hooks of Hooks Farms Inc. farms in the Fremont area. He has around 45 acres of tobacco.

He said the buyout passing through the House is good news because farmers are in such bad shape.

"Aything would be of help," he said.

He said farmers are a little disappointed on the House's $7 and $3 provision because they were for the $8 and $4 provision.

He said the House bill, which includes no FDA regulation, is being influenced by tobacco companies that oppose FDA involvement.

Most farmers in this area want the FDA regulations, said Hooks. "The FDA will give the tobacco companies more security and what is to their benefit is to our benefit," he added.

Jimmy Pate, 55, a third-generation tobacco farmer from Rowland, is the chairman of an agriculture advisory committee in McIntyre's district. The group of about 40 farmers had never agreed on anything before they reached consensus on the buyout more than two years ago, Pate said.

He said he watched the vote pass on television, and had talked to about 10 farmers in the district to spread the word.

"We had pretty well been told that it was going to happen," Pate said, "but it was a gratifying relief to actually witness the bill passing the House knowing how long we had worked on it."