“I am looking at the issues of traceability which has been an ongoing concern and good agricultural practice (GAP) training, which is a new concept in tobacco this year," he said.

"Both issues have been developed in the light of one grower dealing with one contracting company. But will growers delivering tobacco to auction houses without a contract get lost in the shuffle?”

Auction operators seem to have gotten ahead of the traceability problem. In an informal survey of warehouse owners who are operating this year, all said they maintain adequate records to answer any traceability question.

They are confident they can answer any traceability questions, Smith said.

"But these operators did not feel nearly as much concern about GAP certification," he said.

"That is mainly because most of their growers have contracts with one or more tobacco companies and will have been certified by those companies. And some other farmers attended GAP meetings sponsored by their respective states.”

Most farmers who sell at auction will be able to document GAP certification from some other source and that it will not be an issue for their tobacco, said Smith.

"But you just have to think there will be a few growers who show up at the warehouse uncertified.”

What will happen? Maybe nothing. "Maybe none of the buyers will care," said Smith.

"If there is a concern, the operators might elect to sell tobacco from uncertified farms separately.”

But that would not be desirable because of the likelihood of price discrimination. "So there remain questions on the GAP situation," Smith said.

Some agreement on GAP training for non-contract growers would be a good thing, said another of the Forum speakers, burley grower Scott Travis of Cox's Creek, Ky.

"Everyone needs the same set of standards to go by," he said. "It would make growers more aware of what they need to be doing. Uniformity is important.”

Travis, who said he never really felt comfortable about the contracting system, has no contract for his 12 acres of burley this season. "I will sell it all at auction and perhaps at some 'pop-up' markets along the way," he said.

From the operator's point of view, the advantage of the auction is that it puts multiple buyers together with multiple sellers, said Randy Brandon, manager of American Tobacco Exchange in Wilson, N.C.