DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Tripp Foy's sing-song chant rang out like a sentimental oldie for die-hard farmers clinging to the old way of selling tobacco, as a small procession of buyers shadowed him down long rows of reddish-brown leaf piled in bales.
Farmers who have spent their lives tending the aromatic crop in their fields find comfort in Foy's rat-a-tat style, part of an auction system that's been all but snuffed out by another way of selling tobacco after years of declining smoking rates.
"It's kind of in our blood," said tobacco farmer Walter Browning. "But I'm about bled out."
This tobacco-belt tradition, once as much a part of Kentucky's fabric as bourbon or horse racing, is fading away — and it's taking the maestros like Foy with it.
"The chant of an auctioneer can sound as good as a song," said Foy, 63, who has spent four decades auctioning tobacco in Kentucky — the nation's top burley producer. "You can walk down a row and you can almost dance to the tune of the sale."
Years ago, multiple auctioneers plied their trade in each of the state's biggest burley markets as sales seasons typically stretched from late autumn until March. The competition for top auctioneers was fierce as warehouse operators looked for any edge to pull in more business from farmers.