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Production cuts endanger future of cash crop

By Molly Haines

 In the not so distant past, anyone traveling through Owen County could look out their window and see field after field of tobacco – the plant that for so many years provided local farmers with the luxuries of life.

At present, many farmers across the state are struggling to keep up since Philip Morris U.S.A. and Philip Morris International began cutting the number of pounds a grower can raise, or cutting contracts completely.

During a recent Owen County Chamber of Commerce meeting, Industrial Authority Chairman Frank Downing gave members of the chamberan update on Owen County’s tobacco production.

Downing said according to “Tobacco Quarterly” magazine ,burley production this year will be about one-third of what it was 10 years ago — 20-percent less than what had been forecast earlier. 

“I’m concerned as to what will happen when the buyout money is gone,” he said. “Right now I don’t see any crops that could match what tobacco has done for Owen County.” 

Owen County saw a major decline in the number of farmers raising tobacco in November 2004 when President George W. Bush signed the tobacco buyout bill. 

The buyout bill ended the support price and gave quota holders the opportunity to receive compensation for no longer having a quota. 

In 2014, those who received the buyout will no longer receive money.

Over the last three years, farmers who continued to raise tobacco and have had contracts with Philip Morris U.S.A. or Philip Morris International have been graded on a point system for delivery and quality. 

Those farmers whose scores have gone down consistently have had their contracts terminated, and those who have had their scores decline a little have had the number of pounds they can raise cut.

Earlier this year, David Sutton, a spokesman for Philip Morris U.S.A., said the company will continue to buy tobacco from thousands of growers in the state of Kentucky and across the nation.