When your market is destroyed and nobody wants to help you:
The USDA lists more than two dozen crops that are eligible for the payments, but tobacco is not included among them due to federal rules that preclude the crop from receiving federal funds to promote its sale or export. “Tobacco did not receive one penny of that money,” said Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau. “And I’ve got news for you, the new money that’s coming out, tobacco is not going to share in that either.”
Wooten said that North Carolina farmers exported $162 million worth of tobacco products to China in 2017. In 2018, that figure was $4 million. He said the state’s farmers this year have planted the smallest crop of tobacco since before World War II.
I hesitated to write about this because I realize that probably 95% of the people reading don't care, and a good portion of you would love to see NC stop growing tobacco entirely. I get that. But that unbelievable drop in exports listed above is a stark reminder of just how dangerous this President is to our economy. And like it or not, tobacco was one of the main drivers of NC's economic growth for centuries. Follow below the fold for a mostly pointless and boring personal anecdote:
My family moved to NC in 1973, because my dad was an engineer with Western Electric specializing in guidance systems for missiles. I was only 13 at the time, and my plan to earn big money mowing neighborhood lawns was dashed when my father decreed that our mower was off limits for such ventures. He had a long-term plan that his new lawnmower would last 20+ years because it had a Briggs & Stratton motor, and he had probably calculated the actual number of grass blades it could sever before it ceased to function. Engineers...Anyway, my neighbors had an extended family who lived out in the country, and when Summer rolled around, they promised a fantastic opportunity to make extra spending money. That's when I was introduced to the horrors of "first priming."
When tobacco is harvested, the leaves are plucked from the bottom up, in several stages. First priming are the lowest leaves, dirty from contact with the wet ground, often vigorously defended by Morning Glory vines, and you grab 3-5 leaves with your right hand and stash them under your left arm. And when you're tall (I was 5'8" at 13), it's constant bending and straightening, until you have so many leaves under your arm you start dropping them. That's when you walk over and throw them on a trailer, and get a 20 second break from the bending & grabbing. We pulled tobacco from about 7 a.m. until 4:30 or 5, and then we had to tie them on sticks and hang them in the barn. And because I was tall, I had the honor (yes, that's sarcasm) of spending those last few hours in the 120 degree tobacco barn, balancing on wood beams 12 feet in the (hot) air, hanging sticks of the same tobacco I had yanked off the plants a few hours before.
I had worked in fields before, picking beans, peas, etc., helping my mom for an hour or two. And later, I did other stuff, like hauling hay and rocks for construction. But it's safe to say there is nothing like pulling tobacco to exhaust you to the point you're catatonic. I was paid $1.85 per hour for that work, a Twenty and a Five at the end of the day. And when I stumbled home later, I glared at that Briggs & Stratton like it was partly responsible for my aches and pains.
Back to the tariffs, and the struggle to make ends meet:
Randy Edwards, a tobacco farmer in Johnston County near Wendell, said he is worried about the future of his farm.
Last year, one of Edwards’ biggest customers, a Chinese importer of tobacco, canceled all U.S. orders. Edwards’ farm now has no opportunity to sell to Chinese companies, and he has half the amount of tobacco on his farm as he did last year.
“I farm with my son, daughter and nephew, and I worry a lot about them being able to be profitable,” Edwards told the N&O. “Being so close to Raleigh, we have experienced a lot of development pressure, and in the past two years have lost over a dozen of the farms we rent.”
“I also worry the ag(riculture) market won’t come back in time and our family would have to sell some of our land to be able to service the farm’s debts,” Edwards added.
Like many other farmers, Edwards has attempted to buffer the loss in tobacco with other crops, namely sweet potatoes, corn and soybean. Hemp is also part of the equation now.
Unless they outlaw hemp...