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Auctioneers Begin Sounding Out the Call

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SMITHFIELD — U.S. Senate candidates Lauch Faircloth and John Edwards were out fetching votes at the opening of the Eastern Belt Tobacco Market Wednesday, where auctioners officially began calling out the first tobacco sales of the year.

But it's not just politicians out there. Rocky Mount, Smithfield, Wilson and other points east of the Triangle are thronged with those involved with the opening of the market. For many growers and buyers, this is the first opportunity to see what this year's tobacco crop looks like. Tobacco is expected to pump about $1 billion dollars into North Carolina's economy.

The auctioneer's call brings forth hope and a little anxiety for farmers who have been battling dry weather and a host of crop-threatening diseases.

"Hopefully [this crop will bring] a lot of money," said tobacco farmer Henry Phillips. "We need a bunch. In the field right now, we need some water to finish out the top of the crops, so I don't know what to anticipate as far as what we've got in the field. What we've got here is a good carry-over of tobacco from last year. We had a good crop last year."

Opening day isn't the draw it used to be, but it's still important to growers and local businesses in eastern N.C. towns. Tobacco advocates say, regardless of how non-farmers feel about the gold leaf, Tar Heels should all appreciate the money it generates for the state every year.

"The base of this state was built on tobacco," said N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham. "And built on the livestock and good foods and vegetables. I think without question, [tobacco opponents] will learn, and I hope they'll not learn the hard way."

The quality of tobacco crops has fluctuated from county to county this year, and Wednesday's prices reflect that. Some bales sold for $1.85 each, which is considered a good price.

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Brian Bowman, Reporter
Brian Bowman, Photographer
MJ Ainsley, Web Editor

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