The organizer of a new produce auction in Oxford, N.C., hopes the idea spreads throughout the state. The Oxford Produce Auction opened for business July 16 at 4 p.m. at the Yeargin's Tobacco Warehouse, 1111 Goshen St.

The activity has already generated interest from a buyer in New York.

“This could open up the potential for other auctions to spring up in other parts of the state,” says Carl Cantaluppi, North Carolina State University Extension horticulture agent in Person and Granville counties. “Auctions are designed to help growers who want to grow a large quantity of an item, sell at the wholesale level and get a higher price for their produce over the season.”

Cantaluppi anticipated buyers from small grocery stories, upscale restaurants, as well as at least one buyer from New York City.

The auction will be held on Tuesday and Thursday. At least 24 growers from North Carolina and Virginia have signed up to sell their produce at the auction. Those growers will likely sell tomatoes, sweet corn, snap beans and squash among other produce items.

In the auction format, a grower lists the kinds and quantities of produce they'll have for sale and is identified by a number. Growers should arrive at the auction at about 2 p.m. the day of the auction either to receive a number or check in their produce.

Much like the lineup at a tobacco auction, buyers on the floor follow the auctioneer down the line as he holds up samples of the produce for sale. “The auctioneer starts off with a high price based on what the produce is going for in the area,” Cantaluppi says. “In the auction format, prices tend to be better over the long haul of the season rather than selling to a produce wholesaler or a broker. It's not designed to replace any forms of marketing that other growers do. It's just an alternative wholesale market.”

Cantaluppi plans to keep current produce prices posted on a Website and at the auction for growers.

Cantaluppi has received one commitment from a buyer in New York City. “Other buyers have said they will show up if we have an auction. This first season is going to be touch-and-go.”

Billy Yeargin, who manages the auction, has already rounded up a refrigerated trailer-truck load of North Carolina sweet potatoes and sweet corn for the trip to New York. “He's serving as an order-buyer for a buyer in New York,” Cantaluppi says. “He's looking to send another refrigerated truck with produce to New York.”

Cantaluppi modeled the auction after ones in Pennsylvania and Ohio. One colleague manages a produce auction in Pennsylvania and another has set up three auctions in Ohio. “We're patterning our auction after their successes.”

Growers who would like a copy of the Oxford Wholesale Produce Auction Guidebook, which outlines the rules and regulations are encouraged to contact Cantaluppi at 919-603-1350.

Those who want to participate in the auction need to contact him to obtain a grower number in order to have it when selling at the auction.