We have had several producers come in with long faces concerning the prospects of profitability growing crops in 2024. This is not unusual in the cycles of agriculture that have existed from the beginning of farming for profit.

We attended several seminars a decade ago where the expert speakers stood and declared that "corn prices will never again dip below $6." My late mother used to tell us that one should never say never unless one enjoyed the taste of one's own words.

Well farming fans, there have been much worse times, such as the unique event in my geographic area known as the "Black Patch Tobacco Wars." About 50 years before I was born in the early 1900's, my great grandfather witnessed an event of low tobacco prices dictated by the Buck Duke family of North Carolina and his monopoly on purchasing dark-fried tobacco. 

Dark fired tobacco was a type of tobacco grown only in western Kentucky and their northern border counties of Tennessee. It was tobacco used for chewing, snuff, pipe and a premium "wrapper" for cigars. It was more of an art than a science producing this premium product. Tobacco here was the cash crop for farms as the other crops were used to feed the family in the horse and buggy days before tractors and combines.

The issue arose when ole Buck decided to figure out a way to become the only buyer of the Dark Tobacco. As the only buyer, he controlled the price, which he set below the cost of production. This had nothing to do with supply and demand, and the demand was high.

Now from the ground swell of protest by the farmers there was formed the PPA after a meeting of 5,000 farmers in the little town of Guthrie, Ky. The Dark District Planters Protection Association of Kentucky and Tennessee (the reason it was called PPA) was formed in 1904. The PPA had a plan for every farmer to hold their tobacco off the market until they got old Dukey boy to pay their asking price. That sounded great, except some of the farmers had to have some cash and sold anyway. These offenders of the movement were now called "Hillbillies" by the PPA and were "visited" and persuaded to join the hold-outers.

The persuasion methods quickly escalated to violence, whippings, burning of crops and destroying livestock of the Hillbillies. The persuading groups were called Night Riders and Possum Hunters. Name creativity was not in their arsenals. Yes, they even wore hoods — before the KKK adopted them. 

It turned violent in short order. Groups of the PPA even organized raids that took over towns and burned businesses and warehouses of those not in the PPA for several years. These were well organized farmers by and large, bound together to defeat the Dukes, and would not be stopped. Alas but they were, by the Kentucky National Guard which was called in to maintain order. The leaders were "brought to justice" with some taking their own lives rather than break the code of secrecy they swore to. 

They even had a secret password: "Have you seen the light?" The response: "On bended knees." 

If you want a good read, pick up a copy of "On Bended Knee: The Night Rider Story" by Bill Cunningham. Imagine all this in light of no internet, cell phones, telephones or automobiles.

The end of the story? Well, the U.S. Courts declared the Duke tobacco business a monopoly and broke it up resulting in profitable prices in growing dark tobacco for a century until the war on tobacco and now synthetic nicotine shut down the enterprise to a mere shadow of what was once the mortgage lifter of our little area. A special note, there was even a farm equipment dealership named "The Planters Hardware" in Hopkinsville, Ky. I never knew 'til learning of the "tobacco wars" the reason Mr. Sam Maddux corrected anyone who called it Planter's Hardware in lieu of THE Planters Hardware.

So, as we hear stories of bad times in ag today, remember: it could be and was a lot worse a few generations back. Just a unique little glimpse into rural ag history that most have probably never heard.

Until next time...smiles and miles of profits to you all!

Told from the perspective of an in-the-trenches owner/operator — Tim Brannon of B&G Equipment, Paris, Tenn. —  Equipment Dealer Tips, Tales & Takeaways shares knowledge, experiences and tips/lessons with fellow rural equipment dealerships throughout North America. Covering all aspects required of an equipment dealership general manager, Brannon will inform, entertain and provide a teachable moment for current — and future — leaders within equipment dealerships.



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