Rural Hall tobacco warehouse starts auction season
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RURAL HALL, N.C. -- A warehouse in Rural Hall kicked off its third annual tobacco auction season, Tuesday. The Old Belt Tobacco Warehouse is carving a niche in the marketplace while reviving a longstanding tradition.
It's also providing a much-needed place of business for some buyers and growers.
Warehouse auctions in nearby Winston-Salem fell by the wayside in 2003 as many growers began signing contracts for their flue-cured tobacco with the top tobacco companies.
The Old Belt Tobacco Warehouse revived the traditional auction in 2010.
"I knew there were going to be farmers that didn't have a contract that still wanted to raise tobacco and the ones that wanted to raise tobacco they didn't have a place to sell it," said Dennis White, manager of Old Belt Tobacco Sales
Some growers with contracts have had product without an outlet.
"Then there's a lot of tobacco that was being grown that didn't make the quality for the contract," said White.
The first auction drew tobacco from 10 growers and five buyers who sized up the product for both domestic and foreign tobacco companies.
"I came down to look at this tobacco and hopefully buy some for some customers I have," said Rick Smith. Hopefully I found some that will work for the export. I'm trying to help the balance of trade in this country."
If it made the grade, some of the tobacco would end up in the cigarettes of Keysville, Va.'s S & M Brands.
"We go to a processing facility and they actually go through and pick out any inferior leaves like this one would come out," said the company's Mac Bailey. "We kinda keep it in a consistent grade."
While the future is uncertain, White and the buyers hoped that this tradition, which has been given new life, would thrive.
"That's probably the main reason I'm here is because this is part of Americana that we lost," said Smith.
"I can't say whether it's back to stay, or not," said White. "As long as someone will bring me some tobacco, we're going to try to make it work."