Tobacco auction system is all but snuffed out

Published 3:56 pm Wednesday, December 31, 2014

DANVILLE, Ky. — Tripp Foy’s sing-song chant rang out like a sentimental oldie for die-hard farmers clinging to the old way of selling tobacco in Kentucky. A small procession of buyers shadowed the tobacco auctioneer down long rows of reddish-brown leaf piled in bales.

Farmers who have spent their lives tending the aromatic crop find comfort in Foy’s rat-a-tat style.

The tobacco-belt tradition, once as much a part of Kentucky’s fabric as bourbon or horse racing, is fading away — and it’s taking the maestros like Foy with it. The auction system has been all but snuffed out by another way of selling tobacco after years of declining smoking rates.

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Now, most burley is sold under contracts between farmers and tobacco companies. The new system cut out warehouse operators as middle men.