September 14, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald
GARRARD COUNTY, KY

How long does it take to clear 16 stick-rows of burley tobacco? That could depend on who's watching and what's waiting at the end of row for the fastest cutter. But this time, it took a little more than 40 minutes.

Garrard County hosted it's nineteenth annual tobacco cutting contest on Sept. 7 near Cartersville, on Marvin Conn's farm. The contest is held at a different farm in the county each year.

"While working with my tobacco advisory committee in the county, I felt like we needed something unique to celebrate our strong heritage in the tobacco business," said Mike Carter, Garrard County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. "As things evolved, we came up with the cutting competition and we've been tickled with what we have accomplished."

Each year contestants come from Garrard county and beyond to showcase their cutting skills. The format has had many faces and was once again changed this year. Before, contestants had an hour to cut as many sticks as possible. This year, each contestant had to cut one stick- row, which is two actual rows for those who aren't familiar with tobacco.

They were judged on the number of sticks they cut, the amount of time it took and then penalized for stalks that weren't properly placed on the stick, and stalks left in the row. Split stalks won't make it to the barn on a stick so points have to be deducted for those.

In 19 years, only three people have had the honor of winning the contest, although many have earned coveted spots in the top five. Bobby Preston has won the contest 15 times and this year placed second. He also holds the record for the most sticks cut in one hour at 302.

Allen "Peanut" Edgington was the defending champion, but he chose not to cut this year. However, his brother, James Gilbert Edgington, did cut and kept the championship in the family. He cut 172 sticks in just over 40 minutes to claim the $500 first prize and engraved plaque. In all, $1150 was awarded to the top five contestants, including a $100 rookie-of-the-year award.

The future of tobacco has been up in the air a bit lately, but the people involved in the tobacco cutting contest made the burley business look fun and exciting again.

"Like others in the tobacco business these days, we feel that we're about to bottom out as far as quotas are concerned," Carter said. "Central Kentucky will always be a prime spot for producing high quality burley tobacco. We feel that will be the case even if price supports and the quota system doesn't continue. We really feel like tobacco production is here to stay."

Next year will be the twentieth tobacco cutting contest. Carter said they will make it memorable and special. With more than 80 sponsors, the annual event will continue for many years.