Tobacco, golden burley, it once was the cash crop that fueled the economic engine of Maysville and Mason County.
The fall and winter of each year saw the streets outside more than 70 tobacco warehouses which once dotted the city, lined with horse-drawn wagons and later trucks pulling wagonloads of the precious leaf, headed to auction.
Farmers, bankers, executives and just onlookers turned the chilly warehouses into social gathering venues. The chant of auctioneers filled the air and mingled with the aroma of cured tobacco, carefully arranged in tobacco baskets and later bales on the warehouse floor.
After months of hard labor, a successful sale for farmers meant food on the table and a roof over the family’s head. Tobacco paid the bills, put kids through school and even financed less profitable crops.
In its heyday, millions of pounds of tobacco passed through Maysville auctions each year and millions of dollars were poured into the local economy as a result.
The demise of tobacco auctions came with the passage of the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act of 2004, also known as the Tobacco Buyout.
The buyout ended all aspects of the federal tobacco marketing quota and price support loan programs. Beginning in 2005, there were no planting restrictions, no marketing cards, and no price support loans.
Maysville held its final tobacco auction in February 2005. And although some local farmers continue to grow the crop, tobacco today is sold on contract.