Fewer than 4,500 tobacco farmers remain in Kentucky in wake of buyouts

Shelby County farmer John Rothenburger stands in a greenhouse filled with young tobacco plants. Rothenburger is among fewer than 4,500 remaining tobacco farmers in Kentucky. (Kentucky Today/Kristen Lowry)

Shelby County farmer John Rothenburger stands in a greenhouse filled with young tobacco plants. Rothenburger is among fewer than 4,500 remaining tobacco farmers in Kentucky. (Kentucky Today/Kristen Lowry)

John Rothenburger is one of fewer than 4,500 tobacco growers left in Kentucky — a state where the crop used to be king. Growing health concerns about tobacco use, as well as the increasing number of foreign growers, have devastated the industry in the state.

A Shelby County tobacco farmer since 1974, Rothenburger started when he was 16 years old, helping his father for pocket money. Now, he grows 26 acres of the labor-intensive crop on the same piece of land that his father farmed before him.

He’s held on through the buyout and the price drops.

Tobacco was once a major industry in the state, but as Americans became aware of the health risks, demand began to plummet.

In 2004, Congress passed the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act, which included the Tobacco Transition Payment Program, commonly known as the “Tobacco Buyout.” The buyout provided cash payouts to tobacco growers as compensation for the loss of quotas.

Read the rest of this story at Kentucky Today.

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