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Eastern Tobacco Belt Opens 1997 Selling Season

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ROCKY MOUNT — For the rest of the summer, you can expect to see a lot of action in tobaccowarehouses down east.

The eastern tobacco belt started its 1997 selling season early Tuesdaymorning. So far, the prices are okay, but farmers are still expecting bigthings this summer.

The warehouse is where months of hard work pay off for North Carolinatobacco farmers. The traditions date back more than one hundred years, butthey're essential to the future of these men and women.

"This year there is less tobacco on the floor opening day than in the pastbecause of the cool spring, but I think when it all comes together, it'salways the same, and it really is fun," said Phil McCumby, Agri-BusinessCouncil chairman.

Tobacco from the previous year is usually the first to sell on openingday. But, thanks to two hurricanes, last year's carryover crop is almostnon-existent. That means more new leaf on opening day, and moderate prices.

"The old tobacco, I think did real good," said Joe Johnson, tobaccofarmer. "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, butmost farmers agree last year's high prices are only a memory. Tobacco wasrare because storms killed so much of it, sending the price through theroof.

"We might not ever see that again, and we don't want a hurricane tocome just to see that," said Edward Stephenson, warehouse owner. "Idon't."

Still, farmers say they're eternal optimists by nature, a trait many ofthem will rely on as they work out a living and wait for prices to rise.

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