November 26, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman
PRINCETON, Ky.

After months of wrangling in Congress, tobacco growers will not see a buyout in 2003.

“As Kentucky tobacco farmers wind down another season, there is much disappointment that a tobacco quota buyout did not materialize in 2003,” said Will Snell, tobacco policy specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. “Despite the dedicated work of farm group leaders and policymakers, Congress ultimately decided not to act on this controversial piece of legislation, which had major implications on the current and future agricultural economy in the Commonwealth.”

Since 2003 was the first year of the cycle, all buyout bills that were introduced this past year remain alive.  Undoubtedly, tobacco-state lawmakers will continue their efforts to move a buyout bill early next year, Snell said.

However, a successful buyout package probably hinges on some modifications to the funding amounts, the funding mechanism, and the post-buyout tobacco policy. In addition, efforts must continue to see if there is any common ground among the major tobacco companies with respect to the FDA issue that simultaneously will be supported by the health community.

Several factors came into play in recent weeks that derailed buyout efforts for this year.

First, it is important to remember that despite all the support among tobacco farmers in the southeast there are only seven main tobacco producing states, with many lawmakers from 43 other states not having a primary interest in the crop, Snell said. Second, while the tobacco farm groups agreed to the buyout components in principle, unity was never achieved among the major tobacco companies on the buyout package.

Third, after a lot of debate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration components of the buyout package probably came together too late in a session that was filled with a lot of other major national issues, he said. FDA components in the provisions outlined in October lost the support of health groups who said they were too weak.

A buyout bill without ties to FDA regulations was unpopular with a number of organizations and many members of Congress, and lost the backing of Philip Morris, the only tobacco company supporting the combined FDA-buyout provisions.

Finally, while some congressional members were sympathetic to the plight of tobacco farmers many were, in principle, against any type of legislative activity that raised prices to consumers or resulted in more government regulations, Snell said. These and other factors, such as compensation levels and a post buyout program, ultimately resulted in the downfall of buyout legislation in 2003.

In recent days, tobacco-state lawmakers tried to tack two measures to a spending bill that would have helped farmers – a buyout provision, or one that would have stopped the U.S. Department of Agriculture from cutting the amount farmers can grow in 2004.

“While the future of the program and the buyout remain uncertain, one thing for certain is that policymakers and farm group leaders cannot stand still and do nothing to address the downward spiral of tobacco quotas and the tobacco economy. Thus efforts will continue into 2004,” he said.

If a legislative strategy does not work, farm group leaders will have to resort to other more extreme, and probably less popular options including Congressional action to make major changes to the existing tobacco program, which may or may not include a scaled-down privatized buyout outside of Congress, he said.

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Contact: 

Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Source: Will Snell 859-257-7288