A cool, rainy summer and an outbreak of blue mold fungus disease will probably mean a smaller-than-normal crop of Southern Maryland tobacco this year.

Bernie Doepkinis, manager of the Triangle tobacco warehouse in Upper Marlboro, says the yield from the 1979 planting will be 65 to 70 percent of normal, but "quality-wise, we've had one of the finest crops in many years."

During the 41st annual tobacco auction, which began last week and will run through May 22, Southern Maryland growers are counting on a higher price for their crops than last year's record average price of $1.23 a pound.

Although poor weather has affected the amount of tobacco available, it should make for a leaf of higher quality. Doepkinis noted that a wet growing season means a light, low-nicotine tobacco that burns easily. Some European cigarette makers prefer this type of tobacco.

"This year's crop has exceptionally low nicotine -- the lowest it's been in the past 10 years," Doepkinis said. "We just hope that all things will lead to a higher price."

After the first week, selling prices were running considerably higher than last year's, averaging $1.39 a pound.