KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Melvin Daniels owns more than 2,500 acres in Claiborne County. Usually, this time of year he and his employees would be readying next season’s crop. Instead, the farm sits quiet and the crops lay dead.
"Tobacco’s done. We’re finished with it," Daniels said. "My family has been here since the revolutionary war. We’ve always grown tobacco."
For more than 230 years, Daniels' family farmed tobacco on the rolling hills of Claiborne County. Now the family business seems to have come to an end.
"It’s the end," said Daniels. "It’s just like if someone came along and said I want your house, and just take it."
Daniels said in July of 2017, the Powell Valley Electric Cooperative hired a company called US Applicators to spray herbicide under their power lines. Daniels said the chemicals drifted onto his tobacco and contaminated much of his crop. Powell Valley Electric declined to provide a comment for Tuesday's story. In 2017, the contractor hired to do the spraying showed us where the chemicals are used.
"Our job is to stay in the center of this line right here above us. We’re to apply to 20 feet of either side," said Steve Payne of US Applicators.
Daniels alleges that herbicide spraying by the contractor hired by Powell Valley Electric Cooperative killed dozens of acres of his crops and has caused him to lose millions of dollars in profits.
RJ Reynolds, a large tobacco company that Daniels usually sells his product to, has said it will no longer buy any of the crop that has been touched by herbicides.
Daniels has filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against the Powell Valley Electric Cooperative and the contractor they hired, US Applicators. He said that amount matches the profits he stands to lose on his crop over the next couple of years.
A report by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture obtained by 10News in November of 2017 states that US Applicators did not adequately prevent herbicides to drift while spraying underneath the power line's right of way.
"It appears that the applicators with US Applicators ... did not follow label precaution for Drift issues with the herbicide Arsenal," the report said.
The Department of Agriculture found the applicators at fault for two violations. The first "is for having five crews going with only one licensed applicator to supervise..." The second "is for violations for possible drift."
If he wins the lawsuit, he says he may be able to continue farming. For now, he is working to find other ways to avoid selling the farm.
"We’re cutting timber now trying to pay the bills," said Daniels. "Like a farmer means nothing. Means nothing."