Some high-powered politicians were honored at the recent Tobacco Day, held Dec.1 (2005) on the N.C. State University campus. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) presented the award of 2005 Tobacco Great to the entire North Carolina Congressional Delegation this year, including North Carolinaâ€™s two senators and the stateâ€™s 13 U.S. Representatives.
This year, 2005, has been a special year for tobacco, in that it has brought the industry to a crossroads. The federal support program was cut loose with a tobacco buyout, the Tobacco Transition Payment Program, or TTPP. In its place a new way of managing and marketing tobacco will take the industry into the future.
In recognition of that fact, CALS went a step beyond the norm by honoring this large group who were instrumental in making the buyout come about. The honor of Tobacco Great is normally reserved for one or two people each year, who have made great contributions to the industry.
CALS also presented a new special honor, the Distinguished Service to Tobacco Award to former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC, for his long-time service to the tobacco industry.
Those politicians honored worked diligently during all of 2004 and saw the tobacco buyout finally become law when President Bush signed the bill in October of last year. In 2005 the industry began to see the fruits of those efforts, as government payments finally began to show up in the mailboxes of farmers and quota holders.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, was on hand to accept his award. Even though he was one of the architects of the legislation, he himself expressed awe that it had actually happened. It came, he noted, at the tail end of a long strategy that saw many ups and downs, but finally ended up with success when the buyout language was added to a tax and trade bill.
"We knew the mechanics of that conference would always lead us to a bill that, first, accomplished a buyout and, second, would do it without FDA authority," Burr explained.
He expressed his appreciation for the teamwork that made the bill work and noted another over-arching reason for success. "It is because the N.C. Delegation, in the 11 years that Iâ€™ve been there, has never failed to unite on an issue that is important to North Carolina," he says.
Burr was also optimistic about the future of tobacco in the state. He mentioned the high-water production of tobacco in the state, when N.C. growers produced 1.2 billion pounds of flue-cured tobacco. "We will meet and surpass that 1.2 billion pounds in the future," he says.
The recipients of the award were bi-partisan. Rep. Bob Etheridge (Dem- 2nd) says special circumstances led to the buyout. "It was when opportunity met with prepararedness," he says.
Although he was receiving the high honor from the industry, Etheridge took the opportunity to turn the tables, by praising the industry people in the audience, including farmers. He added, "It wouldnâ€™t have happened without you. So thank you."