For Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, the drive toward a tobacco buyout has resembled his days on the farm at harvest. The comparison comes in getting the crop in before the rain sets in.

“Things must move in a hurry and time is of the essence,” Wooten said after visiting with members of the U.S. House and Senate in Washington, D.C. “I feel very positive that we can see a buyout this year.

“I think our future rests with the buyout,” Wooten says. “Without this buyout moving forward this year, I think the future of tobacco is going to be extremely bleak in terms of the tough medicine we would have to take to remain in the tobacco business in this country.”

Industry experts and farm leaders alike see 2003 as the year for a tobacco buyout to happen because of the impending election year in 2004.

They also point to declining quota and markets as reasons the current program isn't working. If passed, tobacco buyout legislation will likely contain two main elements: Compensation for quota owners and growers and Food and Drug Administration regulation of cigarettes at the manufacturing level. Some in the industry see FDA regulation making a tobacco buyout bill possible.

Before the July recess of Congress, the Senate was farther along than the House in developing a framework to move tobacco buyout legislation.

Wooten and others made the trip to Washington to “try and push the movement of a bill in the House, even though it might not be a perfect bill.”

It's “imperative.”

All along the framework has been what's commonly described as “$8 and $4,” Wooten said in a telephone interview from Farm Bureau's Raleigh office.

“By far the main component of the buyout legislation is $8 and $4,” Wooten says. “We started this discussion two or three years ago to compensate the owners and growers for their investment in this program — so we could get the cost of the program out of the price of American tobacco.”