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For years, raising tobacco has been a main source of income for many farmers across Owen County.
As the 2009-2010 growing season came to an end, some farmers were informed that they would no longer be able to sell their tobacco through Philip Morris U.S.A. or Philip Morris International.
The announcement has left some farmers wondering about the future of tobacco in Owen County.
Owen County saw a major decline in the number of farmers raising tobacco in 2004 when a tobacco buyout bill was passed.
Ronn Pelfrey, county executive director at the Owen County Farm Service Agency, said those who received the buyout will no longer receive money after 2014.
“In November of 2004, the President (George W. Bush) signed into law the tobacco transition payment program,” Pelfrey said. “That ended the support price and made available for the quota holders to receive compensation for no longer having a quota. Quota holders received $7 per pound over a 10-year period. The last year to receive a payment will be 2014.”
Over the last three years, those farmers who continued to grow tobacco and have had a contract with Philip Morris U.S.A. or Philip Morris International have been graded on a point system.
Brian Furnish, general manager of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, a group that works to promote and encourage marketing tobacco, said many farmers whose tobacco has received a low score have either had the number of pounds they can raise reduced or have not had their contracts with Philip Morris U.S.A. or Philip Morris International renewed.
“Each company grades the farmers on the delivery and quality of their tobacco,” Furnish said. “Some of those whose scores have gone down consistently have been cut out completely or if their scores have declined a little they’ve had their pounds cut.”
Bobby Kemper – who worked as an agent for the Philip Morris U.S.A. receiving station in Frankfort, said more tobacco-growers in the state of Kentucky have contracts through Philip Morris U.S.A. or Philip Morris International than any other tobacco company.
The Frankfort Philip Morris U.S.A. receiving station shut down at the end of the 2009-2010 growing season.
District 12 Director for the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association and local tobacco farmer David Chappell said his contract with Philip Morris International had not been renewed for the upcoming growing season.
“There’s just not enough consumption of tobacco anymore,” Chappell said. “The amount of people that smoke has gone down drastically and these companies just don’t need as much tobacco as they once did.”
Owen County tobacco farmer Charles Mason said the number of pounds he could raise for the upcoming growing season has been reduced by Philip Morris International.
“I think a lot of the reason they’re cutting us out is because they’re getting it from other countries,” Mason said. “That’s just my opinion and I can’t say for sure, but I think that’s a whole lot of why this is happening.”
David Sutton, a spokesman for Philip Morris U.S.A., said, “We will continue to buy tobacco from thousands of growers in the state of Kentucky and across the nation.” However, he also said that the cigarette industry is in a state of decline.
Kemper said since the end of the 2009-2010 growing season, he has received dozens of calls from farmers across the state.
“A lot of the people that call me say they’re in their 50s and raising tobacco is all they’ve ever done,” Kemper said. “They’ve raised tobacco all their lives and they don’t know what to do and they don’t know how they’re going to make it. It’s tough, there just isn’t anything good about it right now.”
Kemper said other tobacco companies that Kentucky farmers sell to are also making cuts.
Mason said tobacco farming has long been a steady source of income for him.
“I raise some cattle,” Mason said. “But tobacco is what has kept food on my table, it’s how I’ve been able to pay my bills. It’s really going to hurt the farmers and the business. They’re just going to keep cutting us and cutting us until there aren’t any farmers left.”