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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edward Stephenson, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A changing tobacco industry's effects on tobacco auctions

The tobacco farming business has changed since his early days as an auctioneer, Stephenson reflects. Market fluctuations make farmers anxious, especially because crops other than tobacco are not lucrative enough to sustain them should tobacco prices fall. Meanwhile, Stephenson notes that he has little contact with farmers any more and that the number of buyers has dropped.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edward Stephenson, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I was going to ask about how your relationship has changed with the buyers and the farmers over the years. I guess, talk about how your relationship with the farmers has changed.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
I don't know exactly how to say it other than, you don't have as close a relationship, because you don't see them as much. You don't see them that much. The last few, seven or eight or ten years has been real streesful on the [farmer]. You know, What's going to happen? A buy out, are they going to buy it out?
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yeah it's been up the air.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
They ask you these question that you can't answer. I get asked ten thousand times a day, How 'bout the buy out? Are they going to buy it out? It's just so unpredictable you don't know what to say ant more. You don't hardly know if you're going to be operating next year. I don't know. It's gotten down to that point now, to where you don't really know if you're going to be here next year. Even if the warehouse is going to be open. I've got friends of mine that were in business for forty and over night they were out of business. Gone! The warehouse just closed! It's stressful. Maybe the farmers are a little more up tight. Worried . . . . . . Used to, maybe it was more laid back, more happier. Everything was a lot more secure. Tobacco was selling good. Now, if tobacco don't do good, you're almost . . . . . . I mean corn's nothing, $2.00 a bushel. Soy beans? There is nothing to make any money on any more but tobacco. In the '50s corn was $5.00 a bushel, maybe a man could make a little money on corn. But now there's no money on anything but tobacco. There's nothing that can make the money that tobacco does. But as far as the relationship with them, I don't see them that much no more. It's a lot of phone talk and a lot of Nextel talking. A lot of people bringing their tobacco to the warehouse and talk for them. I just know . . . . . . They got cards they have to put it on. And about the only time we talk is when they say, Put this on card number so-and-so. Or whatever. Used to, everybody would bring their own personal tobacco to the warehouse on their own personal truck and come to the sale their self and stay and wait and get their check, but it's just not that way anymore. So that took away from the, maybe the one-on-one personal service. That's about all the warehouse had to sell, was personal service. And then try and convince them that you were the highest price in the East. But personal service, like Get you off fast. Get you out of the warehouse. I built a new warehouse in 1997 with all that in mind. Modern, state of the art. A beautiful warehouse. I always wanted big 20 foot doors, where you could get a truck in and not worry about it scraping the door. And I built me big 20 foot doors, 20 foot high and I put me a 80 foot trolley in it with a quick unloading system that weighed the sheets hanging the air. Bought balers and things like that. With in mind of when you came, you came to a facility where you were in and out and gone. Where you'd know what was happening
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I remember reading about some auctioneers [sic; warehouses] that said We've got the best stables for your mules and dormitories for the farmers. From when it was a trip to town.
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Yeah.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What about the buyers? How do you think your relationship with the buyers has changed?
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
Well we don't have any buyers. We got four where we used to have 12or 15. And they all used to come and stay in a motel. Now we sell one day a week. They'll sell in Smithfield today, Clinton tomorrow, Kinston the next day and they're just not around. You might see them one day a week, where you used to see them seven days a week.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
So there's fewer of them and . . . . . .
EDWARD STEPHENSON:
There's fewer of them and you just don't see them that much. You don't see then enough to get that close a relationship with them. And they don't stay around that much anymore. Hardly any of them even stay in Smithfield. Maybe some of them will stay close enough to where they go home every night. We used to have buyers from Kentucky and Tennessee that would come and they couldn't go home. So we'd eat together a lot and, maybe on the weekend got out some together, but you just don't have that any more, 'cause they're not around. They're just not around.