Friday, February 16, 2001

Burley tobacco quota may end

Growers finish voting today in referendum on continuing practice

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEXINGTON — Today is the deadline for more than 170,000 Kentucky burley tobacco growers to vote to either continue or halt national marketing quotas for 2001 through 2003 burley crops.

        The referendum, established by the U.S. secretary of agriculture, is intended to determine whether marketing quotas on a poundage basis will be maintained for the next three years.

        Federal quotas are allotments indicating how much farmers can sell based on unsold tobacco from earlier years and the purchasing intentions of tobacco companies.

        To maintain the quota system, two-thirds of the state's burley growers must cast a “yes” vote. If more than one-third of the tobacco farmers vote against it, quotas and federal price supports would not be in effect for the 2001 crop year.

        The quotas would be reinstated for 2002, however, at which time burley growers would have the opportunity to vote on them for two consecutive years.

        Kenton County farmer Warren Richardson thinks the vote will be in favor of keeping the quotas and the tobacco auctions, based on discussions he has had with burley growers around the state.

        “The feeling I got was that most growers are afraid of the contract sales with the tobacco companies and want to maintain the quota system,” he said. “Without the quotas and price support, it will probably be the end for most small tobacco farmers.”

        The large tobacco companies have begun a program of negotiating with individual growers, establishing contracts to purchase the entire crop rather than buying burley through open bidding at auction houses.

        Javier Garza, with the federal Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency in Lexington, said Thursday that although the deadline for farmers to vote is today, a final tally probably won't be available for up to two weeks.

        “If a farmer is mailing the vote, it must be postmarked Feb. 16, but it wouldn't be received here before next Monday,” he said.

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