From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Tobacco in Hopkinsville and Christian County

Changes in the tobacco industry have affected Hopkinsville, KY




A vacant tobacco warehouse in Hopkinsville

Hopkinsville and Christian County have struggled with changes in the tobacco industry during the last few decades. I don't have a comprehensive understanding of everything that has happened, but I do know that we arrived in Hopkinsville at the end of an era. In the early 1990's, daily tobacco auctions were still held in several big tobacco "loose floors" during the first months of the year. Now many of the warehouses are standing empty with a "For Rent or Lease" sign on them.

Pennyrile Electric has bought and repurposed the tobacco warehouse across the street from their office and facilities. They made it into a garage for their vehicles. It must have been a real blessing to them to have that huge building become available.

The roof on one old warehouse near the railroad tracks in the tobacco district fell in and they tore the whole thing down. Another warehouse near the railroad tracks in the vicinity of 11th street was blasted or bulldozed down and the old bricks were picked out of the rubble, cleaned up, packed on pallets, and hauled away.

Part of the change in the tobacco market is due to high quality tobacco now being grown overseas. It's cheaper than U.S. tobacco, so U.S. tobacco products aren't selling as well overseas, and also U.S. manufacturers are buying some of the cheap foreign tobacco.

Tobacco is bought in the fields by the tobacco companies nowadays. There's no need for it to be brought to auction or held in a warehouse until prices get better. The farmer knows before it's even cut what price he'll get for it.

Changes have also occurred in the government's price supports of tobacco. I don't understand much about the quota buyouts and new government regulations, but a number of the smaller farms in our neighborhood have stopped growing tobacco in the last few years. All in all, it's been a difficult period of transition for everyone in Christian County who depends on tobacco to make a living.

When I moved to Kentucky, I had a strong feeling that growing tobacco was immoral. But after living here for a while, I respect the tobacco farmers because I see how hard they work. Tobacco requires hands-on farming and I mean that literally. A tobacco patch is like having a giant garden. The farmer plants it by hand, works it with a hoe, and harvests it by hand. It is a shame that the derivatives of the tobacco plant are so dangerous and controversial, because so much skill and labor is poured into its growing.

We still have a large leaf-processing plant run by U.S. Tobacco on the north side of Hopkinsville. It makes smokeless tobacco (snuff and chewing tobacco.) I am quite sure they make Copenhagen there, and I think they make Skoal as well. I should know exactly what they make, I suppose, but to tell the truth, I've never been interested enough in snuff and chew to pay attention!

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.