The new tobacco pavilion in Heritage Circle will hosts its first mock tobacco auction Friday at 2 p.m. The auction has been held in the Expo Center for the past several years. The new venue will allow even more fairgoers to experience a throwback to N.C.’s past.
“Tobacco is an important part of North Carolina’s heritage and agricultural economy,” said Pat Short, Heritage Circle superintendent. “It’s an industry that is well represented in Heritage Circle with the tobacco tying competition, curing in a traditional stick tobacco barn and the mock auction.”
Tobacco auctions were common all over North Carolina until about 15 years ago when tobacco went to a contract system. Now, when the tobacco goes to the warehouse it is already in bales. For this sale, it comes in burlap sheets.
“We bring 25 burlap sheets of quality tobacco lined up in a row so the auctioneer and buyer can follow the sale,” said Short. “The warehouse man and the auctioneer stand on the left side, and across from them are the buyers. The ticket marker follows behind and listens to the auctioneers and picks up tickets and writes the price bid by the buyer.” At the mock auction there will be five bidders to represent five different tobacco companies.
Those following the auction will notice the auctioneers and the buyers have their own language. “The buyers give hand signals. If the auctioneer is at $1.90 and the buyer wants $1.88 then he points two fingers down,” Short said. “A full fist indicates the buyer wants that price.”
The tobacco at the mock auction comes from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Oxford Research Station. This station also provides the 1,200 pounds of tobacco used for the tying competition and loaded into the barn. “The tobacco in the barn isn’t quite ready to auction – it’s still very dry,” Short added. “This tobacco starts curing on Friday in a traditional stick barn burning at about 80 degrees. The temperature is increased each day until the tobacco is curing at 160 degrees. The process takes about nine days. The tobacco will return to Oxford to be graded and sold to R.J. Reynolds.”
Fairgoers can observe the mock auction in the tobacco pavilion at 2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23.