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Tobacco farmers eye settlement money and assistance programs

LINNVILLE-- Tobacco farmers were bountiful at the Lawrence Soil and Water Conservation District office last week.

During a meeting in which seating and the parking lot were packed with many lining the walls, Jennifer Byrnes, management analyst supervisor with the Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Foundation (SOACDF), informed the farmers on how they can get a share of tobacco settlement money.

"I'm thrilled," she said. "There are three times as many people here tonight than what I usually see."

The foundation is now offering programs which can reimburse farmers for lime application, grain handling/livestock systems programs (fencing and corrals) and direct payment, which is also known as indemnification. A total of $32 million is set aside for those direct payments to tobacco growers in the state, Byrnes said.

Also, farmers can take advantage of educational assistance for themselves and their family members and agriculture diversification grants -- money to help individuals start new enterprises or expand existing business.

Arabia resident Dale Brown grew tobacco for 50 years. Now he is a quota owner -- a farmer who leases the right to sell.

"Some of these programs are all right," he said. "Over the years, profits have decreased. The cost of production is higher."

Frank Fulks of Scottown has also witnessed a decrease in his profits.

"I see fields all around where there's tobacco dying in the field," he said. "That doesn't help profits too much."

County Commissioner Paul Herrell expressed his concern about the state of farmers.

"Some of these people have totally made a living on tobacco," he said. "Agriculture gets worse every year. We'll be in trouble if we run out of food." Amelia Pridemore/The Ironton Tribune