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Farmers Looking for New Revenue Sources

December 19, 2010

ABINGDON, Va. (AP) - In his barn in rural Washington County, David Lloyd strips tobacco leaves off the stalks, expertly dividing them into four grades. After years as a tobacco farmer, his hands fall easily into the rhythm of the work that has driven the county's economy for generations.

"I'm probably the last of the line back here," he said. "Now we have cattle and a sawmill, and I drive a school bus to make it work."

Until a year ago, his son, 19-year-old Bear Lloyd, thought he was going to spend his career raising burley tobacco as his father did. But with demand for tobacco ever on the decline, this year he isn't growing any.

Instead, Bear Lloyd shows off some of the other things his family's gotten into to make up for the shrinking tobacco market, a trend that's accelerated since the end of a decades-old federal quota and price support program five years ago.

The family now has goats and hair sheep, which they sell up north for meat, and cattle. But the hot new thing is an experimental field of canola, which in November is just sprouting from the soil where this year's tobacco crop was grown.

"It's in an old tobacco patch," Bear Lloyd said. "We're the only ones in the county with this right now."

Five years after the federal buyout that ended the tobacco quota and price support program, a lot of Washington County farmers say they're still working on ways to cover the lost income. For most of them, that means doing a little bit of everything.

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