Tobacco Buyout Snuffs Out Md. Crop
CROOM, Md. (AP) - During the last few years that he farmed tobacco, John S. Ellis grew the broad-leafed crop on only 55 of the 700 acres he worked in southern Maryland.
``Those 55 acres were more profitable than the remaining 645 combined,'' said Ellis, who also grew corn and soybean.
But sagging prices and the stress of raising the labor-intensive crop convinced Ellis to join 673 other Maryland farmers, or 68 percent of the state's 990 eligible tobacco farmers, who have signed up or applied for a tobacco buyback program.
That figure surpasses the expectations of government officials, who set out a year ago to eradicate the crop that was grown in southern Maryland for more than 300 years. The state had expected about 60 percent of tobacco farmers to participate.
The $78 million program, funded in part by Maryland's $4.2 billion settlement with tobacco companies, pays eligible farmers not to grow tobacco for the next 10 years.
``We are turning our back on tobacco, not the farmers,'' Gov. Parris Glendening said Monday as he announced the latest buyout figures.
Maryland is the only state in the nation using its tobacco settlement funds to buy out farmers, he said.
The 559 farmers who signed buyout contracts last year and the 115 who applied this year account for 6.6 million pounds of tobacco leaf, or 81 percent of the 8.2 million pounds of tobacco eligible for the buyout.
Farmers will be paid $1 per pound annually for the next 10 years, based on the average amount of tobacco they grew between 1996 and 1998. To be eligible, a farmer had to grow tobacco in 1998.
Farmers also can receive a 10 percent bonus if they agree to put their land into agricultural land preservation.