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Wilson tobacco market opens

Posted August 11, 2008

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— Wilson opened its 119th tobacco market season Monday. The traditional leaf auctions are long gone, and farmers now sell directly to tobacco companies.

“It was very exciting. Everyone (was) excited,” Rick Smith, with Independent Leaf Tobacco, said of the tobacco auction days.

Back then, Wilson got a lot of attention.

“The senators, the commissioner of agriculture, the governor, everyone would have been down here. It was really a big, big thing,” Smith recalled.

When the federal quota system ended in 2004, so did the auctions. Most tobacco warehouses in Wilson closed.

“It's really a piece of Americana that we've lost, and I really regretted to see go,” Smith said.

These days, tobacco farmers contract directly with manufacturers in advance. Farmers still bring in their crops for pricing, but the fanfare is gone.

“Nothing is like it used to be,” Smith said.

“I still really miss the auction system,” tobacco farmer Phil Aycock said.

While that golden age of tobacco is over, there are new opportunities for those still growing the golden leaf.

“In a lot ways, it has made it a little easier for us,” Aycock said.

Government control restricted how much tobacco farmers could plant. In 2004, farmers planted 5,635 acres of tobacco. The number has grown to 9,130 acres this year.

“We're probably growing four times more, five times more, than we were three to four years ago,” Aycock said.

Countywide, tobacco numbers in Wilson have more than doubled in four years.

It is “pretty much an open market,” Smith said.

Despite a struggle with rising fuel costs and a dry early season, farmers say the tobacco crop looks good this year.

In Wilson County, prices for tobacco are also up over last year.


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