By Kristy Wolfe
The strenuous work of farming has built homes, raised families and provided for them here in the mountains for centuries. For over 200 years, the cash crop of the South was tobacco. Farmers spent long hours in the hot fields planting and harvesting tobacco plants. The work did not end in the fields. The plants then were harvested, hung to cure and then graded. From there farmers would load up their trucks and head off to market. In 2004 one act changed everything.
In 2004 the Tobacco Transition Payment Plan (TTPP) also known as the buy-out was put into place. The TTPP allowed tobacco quota and holders to transition to a free market. The market for American-grown tobacco would never be the same. The TTPP eliminated a 65-year-old federal government program which limited the amount of tobacco grown by the farmers in exchange for price support.
Since 2004 the amount of tobacco grown has decreased. According to Rick Thomason, the agricultural extension agent for Johnson County, the markets [for tobacco] in other countries are where America was 50 to 75 years ago. Driving through several of the larger farming areas in the county, one might think a revival in tobacco might be occurring. But after taking a deeper look, one would realize that the tobacco in the fields is grown by farmers still holding firm to their fields and the big Burley that they were growing before the buyout.
Most people who still grow tobacco grow it for the same reasons they did years ago, said Mary Swift, office manager for Mountain City Burley Warehouse. In economical hard times there isnt any other crop that farmers can grow on the acres they have [here in the county] and bring in the cash that tobacco can. Tobacco was and still is a staple and a backup for local farmers.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.
By Kristy Wolfe