ROCKY MOUNT — For the rest of the summer, you can expect to see a lot of action in tobacco warehouses down east.
The eastern tobacco belt started its 1997 selling season early Tuesday morning. So far, the prices are okay, but farmers are still expecting big things this summer.
The warehouse is where months of hard work pay off for North Carolina tobacco farmers. The traditions date back more than one hundred years, but they're essential to the future of these men and women.
"This year there is less tobacco on the floor opening day than in the past because of the cool spring, but I think when it all comes together, it's always the same, and it really is fun," said Phil McCumby, Agri-Business Council chairman.
Tobacco from the previous year is usually the first to sell on opening day. But, thanks to two hurricanes, last year's carryover crop is almost non-existent. That means more new leaf on opening day, and moderate prices.
"The old tobacco, I think did real good," said Joe Johnson, tobacco farmer. "The new tobacco, I think should have brought a little bit more. I'm hoping it will bring a little bit more in the end."
The new crop sold for $1.45 to $1.65 a pound. It may bring more later, but most farmers agree last year's high prices are only a memory. Tobacco was rare because storms killed so much of it, sending the price through the roof.
"We might not ever see that again, and we don't want a hurricane to come just to see that," said Edward Stephenson, warehouse owner. "I don't."
Still, farmers say they're eternal optimists by nature, a trait many of them will rely on as they work out a living and wait for prices to rise.