Luster leaving tobacco farming

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By The Staff

What used to be the backbone of Taylor County farmers' livelihoods is quickly becoming an overwhelming burden.

Over the past few years, it has become glaringly obvious that tobacco has gotten further and further away from being the viable cash crop it once was for many present and former burley growers.

While farmers have been preparing for this inevitability for several years now, it continues to be a difficult adjustment for some.

First, the government abolished the price support system. Then, tobacco companies fought the payout that came with it that was supposed to pay farmers for diversifying and coming up with new and innovative farming solutions.

All of this left farmers on their own to contract directly with the tobacco companies for the best price they could get.

It hasn't been a textbook farming endeavor since. With no guaranteed price supports, yet saddled with the federal law that requires migrant workers to be paid a certain wage, farmers weren't left with the income to cover their increased production costs. That, in turn, has left them without the profit they have counted on in years past.

As a result, farmers are banding together to form councils, with the hope that there is strength in numbers. But they're facing a brick wall when trying to bargain with tobacco companies.

As the focus across the country brings more attention to the unhealthiness of tobacco products, perhaps it's time to diversify even more?

As long as tobacco companies have other (albeit not the quality) alternatives for the burley they use in cigarettes, they hold one of the industry's more serious bargaining chips.

Domestic cigarette production may also be witnessing shrinkage as foreign countries produce for pennies on what American tobacco companies spend their dollars.

Tobacco, what used to be a farmer's cash cow, is now more headache than profit.