Lower tobacco prices and smaller crops have caused Maryland officials to reduce the tobacco auction season by one-third and have forced one of Prince George's County's three tobacco auction houses to close.
Tony Evans of the marketing section of the state Agriculture Department said tobacco auctions will be held at the seven remaining warehouses in Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Charles counties on 14 days over a four-week period this spring. Last year, the auction lasted 22 days over six weeks.
Edelen Bros. Warehouses Inc. also has told state agricultural officials that it no longer will serve as a marketplace for Prince George's County's tobacco crop this spring.
"It's unprofitable to stay open," said Benny Jameson, manager of the company's Upper Marlboro and Charles County warehouses. "There isn't enough tobacco."
The state's 1987 tobacco harvest, which is to be sold during the Maryland State Tobacco Auction beginning April 3, is estimated at only about 18.7 million pounds.
"It's the shortest crop in memory," Evans told the Prince George's Journal. "Anytime you get below 20 million pounds, that's not good."
Last year, farmers sold 21.1 million pounds of tobacco during the auction season.
In addition, Evans said the number of acres planted in tobacco last year fell to 15,000, the smallest since the state began keeping records more than 50 years ago and 1,000 acres fewer than in 1986.
Jameson estimated the state's tobacco farmers have harvested only 12 million to 14 million pounds, down from the 25 million pounds sold during the 1986 auction season.
"It's half as much as expected," Jameson said. "It's a dying industry." Edelen Bros.'s five-acre parcel is a prime parcel for commercial development.