Farmers continue to seek changes for future tobacco crops

-A A +A
By Stephen Lega

Central Kentucky tobacco farmers have held three meetings since December because they aren't happy with the contract offered by Philip Morris for the 2008 crop.

At the most recent meeting, Feb. 7, they learned from the farmers they elected to represent them that that contract probably won't change.

"We finally got feedback from Philip Morris," Bernie Cave told the audience last week. "It's not what we wanted to hear."

Joe Spalding of Marion County said Craig Stariha, direct purchasing materials director for Philip Morris, visited him recently, and they spoke for more than two hours.

"He assured me we would not get a price increase this year," Spalding said.

He also said that Stariha told him the local group of farmers would not be recognized by Philip Morris.

Spalding, Bernie Cave of Taylor County and Forrest Stevens were elected to represent farmers who sell at the Lebanon station in January. They represented the group at meetings with Kentucky Farm Bureau's tobacco advisory committee and the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-op.

Scott Travis of Farm Bureau attended last week's meeting. As a result of their meetings, they developed a list of concerns to present to Philip Morris. Some of those concerns are scheduling and sale dates, production costs, price incentives, grading inconsistencies, cost-share programs and moisture testing.

"I assure you, the whole of Farm Bureau is aware of the problem," Travis said.

Cave said Philip Morris was invited to attend last week's meeting, but the company declined their invitation.

Spalding and Cave both said company officials indicated they would not push back the Feb. 29 deadline to sign the 2008 contracts. Cave added that they wouldn't tell anyone what to do regarding the contracts.

"We want everyone to make his or her decision," he said.

Nevertheless, a few suggestions came from the audience including signing on the last day and signing a contract for just the minimum tobacco needed to get by. What will happen remains to be seen.

David Sutton, a Philip Morris spokesperson, said Stariha had been traveling and met with tobacco farmers.

He confirmed that the 2008 contracts would not be changed, nor would the deadline to sign those contracts.

"We stand by the contract," Sutton said. "We think it's a solid contract for the growers."

Regardless, the local farmers said they want their representatives to attend the Council for Burley Tobacco meeting in April, and they are planning another meeting, possibly in Lawrenceburg in Anderson County, although the date and time have not yet been determined.

Scott Essex, whose farm is on the Marion-Nelson county line, said he grew 128 acres of tobacco last year. He said he may have to grow 140 acres of tobacco this year just to keep up with the increase in production costs.

"I'm working more hours for less money," he said.

Calvin Shake, a farmer from Spencer and Jefferson counties, said the farmers are getting Philip Morris' attention, but he's not sure they're getting the attention of the right people.

"All we asked for as farmers is a decent price for our product," he said.

- Stephen Lega is news editor at The Lebanon Enterprise. Contact him at slega@lebanonenterprise.com.