The poorly handled tobacco brought the lowest prices and will impact the official overall average price. Without the rows of high-moisture tobacco, the average would probably wind up somewhere around $1.68, he said.
Weather a factor in quality
While poor handling may have impacted the quality of some of the tobacco on the warehouse floor, what concerns Rankin is the tobacco that hasn't made it to the warehouse yet. Continual rain in late June made it impossible for farmers who had not already planted their tobacco to get it into the ground until July.
"A tremendous amount of acreage went in the field after the Fourth of July," he said. "It got dirty, it got bruised by the east winds — there's just a number of things that went wrong."
A large amount of rain in October and several frosts spell bad news for tobacco planted in July — much of it could even be un-marketable, Rankin said. Buyers could spend less now, thinking they'll be able to buy more later.
"If they want tobacco, they'd better be putting their name on it now," he said.
Local farmer Jason Elliott is one of the farmers who planted his tobacco before the late June rains. When he began to strip his tobacco, he realized it still had pretty high moisture, so he waited to let it dry out more. His tobacco crop has not been sold yet, but he expects it to sell in the upper range, somewhere between $1.60 and $1.70 per pound.
"You can make money at $1.60, $1.70 a pound, but you've got to keep costs down," he said.
Elliott said tobacco used to sell for a lot more — more than $2 per pound. But once companies started essentially paying farmers not to grow tobacco, the price dropped.
Elliott said he doesn't know any farmers who didn't plant until July, but he estimated about 20 percent of farmers wait until July every year. Beyond the bad weather, Elliott said how much farmers care about their tobacco is an issue. Some farmers are moving away from family-based farming and just not showing much interest in their crops anymore, he said.
"There's no pride in tobacco anymore," he said.
About one-third of the 1 million pounds of tobacco on the Farmers warehouse floor sold Monday. Two more auctions are scheduled in the coming weeks to sell the rest of it.