04/08/05 — Buyout sign-ups going smoothly

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Buyout sign-ups going smoothly

By Turner Walston
Published in News on April 8, 2005 1:45 PM

About 40 percent of the tobacco quota holders in Wayne County have already signed up for the federal buyout.

Farmers and quota holders have until June 17 to sign up for the program, which will end the federal quota system that has been in place since the 1930s.

About a fourth of the tobacco farmers in Wayne also have signed to participate in the Tobacco Transition Payment program, said Rick Tharrington, the executive director of the county Farm Service Agency, where sign-ups take place. There are about 5,100 tobacco farmers and quota holders in the county.

Both farmers and quota holders will be compensated through the program, which will pay farmers $3 per pound and quota holders $7 per pound. Sign-ups began March 14.

"We feel real good about the sign-ups so far," Tharrington said. "We've still got a long way to go, but progress is being made."

Tharrington said quota holders have been able to sign up without having to make appointments. The application process for growers take longer, he said, because their payments are based on the amount of tobacco they grew over a three-year period. Quota holders are compensated for the amount of tobacco they held right to grow on Oct. 22 of last year.

"We've been getting some positive feedback," Tharrington said. "So far it's been working pretty well."

The computer software needed to process the applications arrived late, Tharrington said, but despite the glitch, "We made good headway taking manual applications."

He urged quota holders and growers to be sure not to let the deadline pass.

"This is a program you don't want to miss out on."

Tobacco farmer Jerry West, 58, said he plans to sign up for the program early next month.

West, who was selected Farmer of the Year by the North Carolina Tobacco Growers Association two years ago, said the sign-up process is complicated for farmers who have been growing tobacco on quotas leased from absentee landowners.

"Mine doesn't involve just rushing down there and signing up," West said.

For West, the buyout program is "bittersweet."

"It beats the alternative, but it's not as good as it should have been," he said.

West said he is concerned with how the buyout deals with estates. As it stands, the right to receive payments transfers to a quota holders' or producer's estate upon his death, unless there is a surviving spouse or at least one dependent. In that case, the right passes to the surviving spouse, perhaps overriding wishes outlined in an estate will. West said of that portion of the buyout law needs to be better defined.