Tobacco buyout clobbers production
Maryland's tobacco buyout has walloped production, according to new statistics from the Department of Agriculture.
Statistician Ray Garibay on Thursday reported a 70 percent drop in the number of acres planted this year from last.
"Looks like about 1,700 acres this year," he said. "The buyout is really taking its toll."
Last year, before the buyout started, Maryland growers worked 5,700 acres of tobacco. After surveying farmers in March, the agriculture department estimated some 2,600 acres would be planted this year, but revised that number downward in June.
Some 560 farmers 57 percent of those eligible took up the offer of a buyout this year. Among them were 63 Anne Arundel County growers. Riva farmer Kenneth Carr, who took the buyout then, said he realized just how fast the crop has dwindled when he drove down to southern Calvert County last week.
"After I passed Earl Griffth's place on Greenock Road, I did not see another crop from there to Solomons Island, not one field all along Route 4," he said. "Another couple years or so, and I am afraid it will all be gone."
An estimated 120 additional farmers statewide applied for the program next year by the July 15 deadline, according to a source at the Tri-County Council, a quasi-government organization that oversees it. The number of Anne Arundel growers wasn't available.
The program, pushed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, pays farmers $1 per pound based on a three-year average of how much they brought to market, to rid the state of its historic crop.
Farmers began getting payments in either a lump sum or a payment plan stretched over 10 years. Growers can plant other crops on their former tobacco acreage; the program doesn't require their fields to lay fallow. The deadline for the initial batch of farmers was extended into this year while the legislature passed a bond issue guaranteeing payments to farmers, who had balked at giving up their cash-rich crop.
"I really think it was that bond issue guaranteeing payments that did it," Mr. Carr said. "That is what made so many go at once."
One tobacco grower who did not bite, however, was County Executive Janet S. Owens. The old sotweed is still grown on some of the 60 acres at her family's farm in Bristol.
She said last week that she considered signing up, but in the end couldn't give up the crop her family has planted there for generations.
Mr. Garibay noted that this year's smaller crop, which is said to be comparable to last season's high quality, will not support opening all five of the state's auction warehouses.
"I heard that only two might open after this crop," he said.
The warehouse auction sys tem, overseen by the Maryland Tobacco Authority, has been operating since 1939 the first year Mr. Carr took a crop of burley to market.