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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee tobacco farmers plan to increase acreage 13 percent in 1998, a University of Tennessee tobacco specialist said Monday.

Dr. Don Fowlkes said strong demand and uncertainty about the future of tobacco has Tennessee tobacco farmers set to plant 53,000 acres, up 13 percent from last year and the most since 61,000 acres in 1993.

Fowlkes said factors pushing a production increase this year include:

— The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates a strong demand quota of 197 million pounds, based on U.S. tobacco companies’ projected needs and recent exports.

— Tennessee growers have not met the demand quota in recent years and seek to make up for it this year.

— Legislative proposals affecting the tobacco industry have made some growers wary about next year’s market, so they want to cash in this year while they can.

— Farmers are using crop reports, pesticides, and other safeguards to better minimize crop loss from blue mold.

“After a relatively poor year in 1997 and not knowing what is going to happen next year, the only real certainty growers have is the opportunity to grow more tobacco this year,” Fowlkes said. “Farmers are planting more now because they don’t know what lies down the road for them.”

Tobacco ranks third behind soybeans and cotton in Tennessee crop sales, generating more than $200 million annually.

Contact: Dr. Don Fowlkes (423-974-7208)