06/13/05 — Friday is deadline to sign up for tobacco buyout

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Friday is deadline to sign up for tobacco buyout

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on June 13, 2005 1:53 PM

With Friday the deadline for tobacco farmers and quota holders to apply for the federal buyout, about 90 percent of those eligible in Wayne County have signed up.

Fewer than 100 of the 1,229 farmers and quota holders in the county have not signed up to receive buyout payments, said Rick Tharrington, the director of the county Farm Service Agency.

Wayne's sign-up rate is on par with the rest of the state.

Under the buyout legislation that Congress approved and President Bush signed in October, quota owners will get $7 a pound for their 2002 quota, the government-issued license to grow tobacco that controlled the supply of leaf from the 1930s until this year.

Growers will get $3 a pound based on the amount of tobacco they grew in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

About $3.9 billion is available for those eligible in North Carolina.

Some farmers and quota holders have not signed up because of the complexity of their quota-sharing arrangements. Many farmers rent quota from people who inherited the right to grow tobacco but do not farm themselves.

The remaining claims involve the most difficult cases, such as those with out-of-state quota owners or quota owned by estates with several heirs.

But county directors said they are also dealing with cases in which an out-of-state quota owner hasn't returned a contract, or in which multiple heirs are squabbling over how much quota each family member owns.

"We have one farm that has 52 heirs -- and they're fighting right now," said Jeanie Setser, the director of the Farm Service Agency in Pitt County. "This is what we're dealing with right now -- the real tough, problem cases."

Keith Weatherly, FSA state director, said that even if there are disputes over who owns what share of the quota assigned to a given farm, "they can still sign what amounts to a blank contract." The appropriate poundage figures can then be filled in after the dispute is resolved, he said.

Joseph Gregory, the FSA director in Johnston County, said this office has 7,200 signed contracts so far, but there are still complex cases.

In some cases, he said, heirs in families that owned tobacco quota are scattered across the country, making it difficult to notify them of the signup deadline if their families haven't kept FSA records up to date.

"We want to help work with people, but it's up to them to make as much effort as they want to get it," he said.