by Pettus Read
The young farm hand had worked all day trying to get up his nerve to approach his boss, Mr. Gregg. Mr. Gregg owned the farm he was working on and was known county-wide for being very conservative. In fact, he was known for being just plain cheap.
As the sun began to set in the west, the young man stepped upon Mr. Gregg's front porch and knocked on the front door. The elderly farmer opened the tattered screen door and asked the nervous young man what he could do for him.
"I'm going courting tonight Mr. Gregg, and I was wondering if I could borrow your lantern," he asked with a slight twitch in his youthful voice?
"Borrow my lantern," Mr. Gregg asked?
"Yes sir, if you don't mind," the trembling young man said.
Leaning back on the door frame, Mr. Gregg proceeded to give his employee some advice. "Oh, I don't mind, but it sure is a strange request. Back when I was your age, I never took a lantern with me when I went a courting," he said with a slight wink of his eye.
The farm hand immediately answered Mr. Gregg without thinking, "Yes sir, I guess that's right, but look what you got!"
For the past two years Tennessee's tobacco farmers have spent a lot of time trying to borrow a lantern for someone to carry for them and help light the way so they will not end up like Mr. Gregg. The rumors of a "tobacco buyout" began way over two years ago and from the early beginnings of farmer talk around country store porches, the possibility of a buyout seemed to only be possible if a miracle could happen.
As farmers have faced decreasing demand, shrinking quotas and increased foreign competition, many have seen a crop that once paid for college educations and a little something for the family Christmas, become a whole lot of hard work for very little return. The outdated quota system that began during the Depression area as a help to the farmer, has recently become more of an unfair penalty than a true help.
On Columbus Day, with the passage of the Corporate Tax Bill, Tennessee's tobacco farmers celebrated, not only the discovery of America, but a $10.14 billion buyout package which is the miracle they have been looking for these many months. The "buyout" will compensate tobacco quota holders $7 per pound and active growers $3 per pound to terminate the tobacco program. In total, this means $767 million for Tennessee's struggling tobacco communities over the next 10 years.
The outdated tobacco program was un-repairable in today's political environment. In fact, just the mention of tobacco legislation in today's Congressional Halls, very often meant sudden death to any bills presented to benefit tobacco producers. However, with the help of determined farmers, agricultural organizations and most importantly Tennessee's Congressmen and Senators, the "buyout" has happened and is waiting on the President's signature.
In the words of Senator Bill Frist, "Making this buyout a reality has been a long hard fight, but it has been worth it. Because any buyout mostly benefits six tobacco states, we knew from the beginning that we faced an uphill battle to gain support from legislators outside the tobacco belt. However, with our farmers' support and counsel, we never tired and moved ahead consistently, and that persistence has produced this victory."
Even an effort to expand the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into the tobacco industry was also turned back. There are still many questions to answer concerning "Phase II" money and how the "buyout" will finally be administered, but those are minor details that can be worked out compared to the past two years of hard work and discussion.
Tennessee's tobacco producers appreciate the "lantern" carried by their Senators and House delegation to see that this legislation was finally passed. Thanks to their help, tobacco farmers can now finally realize what they got just like the young farm hand.