Tobacco farmers bypass auctions - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Tobacco farmers bypass auctions

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August 1, 2002

Al Meritt watches closely as a USDA inspector and tobacco company executives comb through his crop.

"First letter is stalk position, second letter quality, third is color," the USDA inspector Eve explains.

Those three grades adding up to the price per pound Merritt will get for his tobacco under a contract to directly sell to Brown and Williamson.

"I think it's a workable system, seems to work good for us, seems to get us a little better price than the old system," Merritt says. 

That old system, auctions, in place since 1929. Though they look to be on their way out, they aren't completely gone, and the government is trying to revive them.

Just a mile away in Coffee County from the tobacco grading site, one of 14 Tobacco Stabilization Marketing Centers across the country operated by federal co-ops.

"Rather than just go out of business, stabilization thought they'd support the tobacco auction system, they had a vote on it farmers voted 80 percent for it," Tom Lewis, director of the marketing center says. 

But right now, Merritt says direct contracts not only mean convenience, but more cash.

"I can't put it on the auction system and take less for it."

The 55-year-tobacco veteran worried for future farmers without price support.

"Think would be disastorous for young farmers, will have to sell for a lot less once the government gets out of it,"

The other Federal Marketing Center in Georgia is in Statesboro. They had the first auction Monday. They cancelled the auction in Douglas today because they say tobacco is being harvested later this year than normal.