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Cuts to tobacco farmers brewing outrage

Southside tobacco farmers scheduled to receive federal tobacco payments in 2014 will be the big losers if proposed cuts are made to the U. S. Department of Agriculture due to “sequestration.”

It’s a big word that will make a dramatic impact on area tobacco farmers who entered into a good-faith agreement with the government a decade ago.

Created in 2004, the national program known as the Tobacco Transition Payment Program, was created to help tobacco farmers switch from the quota and price support system to the free market.

The tobacco buyout as it came to be known compensated tobacco farmers for their losses incurred during the transition period.

Beginning in 2005 and scheduled to continue through 2014, eligible tobacco growers and quota holders have received annual payments.

But now due to mandatory budget cuts brought on by sequestration, $3.7 million of the $50 million slated for pay out next year in Virginia may be cut leaving local tobacco farmers high and dry.

According to Halifax County Farm Bureau President Scott Crowder, “It’s just plain wrong.”

Local legislators U. S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-5th District and U. S. Sen. Tim Kaine also are opposed to sequestration cuts aimed at Southside tobacco farmers and each have written letters urging the USDA to continue the regular payments as proposed in the original agreement.

By taking out newspaper and radio advertisements, Crowder and the local Farm Bureau are urging Southside tobacco farmers to contact their legislators to voice opposition to the payment cuts that may hit some Halifax County tobacco farmers “hard.”

“I don’t know the exact number of Halifax County buy-out recipients to be impacted, but it’s bad,” he added.

The Farm Bureau president said the biggest problem with the payment cuts is that it’s not even tax dollars being sequestered.

“This money (about $10 billion) was paid into a pool by tobacco companies and manufacturers. It didn’t involve tax money,” Crowder explained.

“The government already has received this money, and now they’re saying they can take 7.2 percent off the top when it’s not even their money to start with,” he added.

“It’s private money, not government money,” an irate Crowder said. “It came from the tobacco companies, and the government has no right to take any of it. It was designated for payouts, and now they’re just stealing this money.”

In essence, the government plans to try and balance its budget by using this private money. That leaves some area tobacco farmers wringing their hands wondering how they will pay off debts and taxes if no buy-out payment comes next year.

“Some local farmers were counting on that money in their 2014 budgets to supplement their annual income,” Crowder added.

He and other local farmers are asking what will happen next if the government is allowed to take private money for their own use and set this precedent. 

“That’s why it’s so important for people to call your representatives in Washington, D.C. or email them to let them know you are opposed to this cut,” Crowder concluded.