Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Burnt tails, green butts--You saw a lot of this late in the season in North Carolina, thanks mainly to a period of intense dry heat.

The tobacco season of 2016 came to nearly its end with a really big storm when Hurricane Matthew blew through on October 8. The leaf that was still out there was subjected to torrential rains and whipping winds and worse, flooding later. But not much was left in the most affected state, North Carolina. And not any was still out in South Carolina, Georgia or Florida. The only state that still has significant tobacco in the field, Virginia, suffered much less damage from the storm.

Matthew damage minimal: In North Carolina, the effects of Hurricane Matthew on tobacco in the coastal plain were minimal, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "We had advanced warning, and farmers made a mad dash to get their tobacco out before it arrived. I don't think we will wind up seeing much loss from the hurricane." A few farmers reported losses in the barn because of power outages and the wet conditions ..."Only about one percent of the crop was still in the field," says Vann. Fortunately, there has been no early frost, he says, and the weather since the hurricane has been very mild. So the rest of the crop should be harvested very soon ...In the Piedmont, the hurricane caused even less damage. "We are seeing that the quality of the late crop there has been better than we might have expected," he says. Flue-cured growers will have an acceptable average yield, says Vann, but he thinks total production in the state may not reach the 346 million pounds that USDA projected last week. "It could be as low as 325 million pounds," he says.
No significant flooding: In Virginia, the rain was steady and prolonged in the 48 hours associated with Matthew. "We got five to seven inches in Pittsylvania County," says Stephen Barts, Extension agriculture agent for the county. "But there wasno significant flooding. We didn't have the standing water they had in North Carolina." The main effect was that Virginians lost three or four days in the field at a time when they could ill afford it. Now, he calculates that about a quarter of the farmers in his area still have tobacco in the field, and some still have a way to go before finishing it. "We may see some harvested on November 1, if Jack Frost doesn't get it first," he says. "But most should be finished this week and most of the rest the next week, again depending on frost."
Burley states warm and dry: In Kentucky and Tennessee, the problem has been unseasonably warm weather and extended drought. "For all practical purposes we have finished harvest," says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "Labor has been the main issue. It's been a struggle for some to get this crop hung. But there is very little burley out there now that is still worth harvesting." The earliest planted crop is curing real well, he says. But there are some concerns about the later crop. It was deteriorating in the field. "Because of the warm October, we may not have too much green. But the late-harvested burley may be brighter than we like." Yields will be below average, and Pearce thinks USDA has overestimated U.S. burley production. "I don't think we will reach 143 million pounds. I think 125 million pounds is more realistic" ... It has been very dry in Tennessee too. "We are the driest I have ever seen in Knox County in October in the 25 years I have lived here," says Neal Denton, Knox County Extension agent ...In southwest Virginia, rain from the hurricane provided some moisture. But it was very sporadic, says Scott Jerrell, Extension agent in Scott County.


  • North Carolina--346.5 million pounds, down 8.4 percent. Yield 2,100 pounds.
  • Virginia--52.8 million pounds, up 6.8 percent. Yield 2,400 pounds.
  • South Carolina--31 million pounds, up 19 percent. Yield 2,300 pounds
  • Georgia--29.7 million pounds, minus 8.4 percent. Yield 2,200 pounds.
  • U.S.--460 million pounds, down 5.3 percent. Yield 2,150 pounds.
  • Kentucky--22.8 million pounds, down 28 percent. Yield 2,400 pounds.
  • Tennessee--18.5 million pounds, down 22.2 percent. Yield 2,650 pounds.
  • Virginia--594,000 pounds, up 3.3 percent. Yield 2,200 pounds.
  • U.S.--41.9 million pounds, down 25.3 percent. Yield 2,501 pounds.
  • Kentucky--110.2 million pounds, up 5.6 percent. Yield 1,750 pounds.
  • Tennessee--17.4 million pounds, down 19.4 percent. Yield 1,450 pounds.
  • Pennsylvania--11.5 million pounds, up 6.5 percent. Yield 2,400 pounds.
  • Virginia--2.1 million pounds, down 10.1 percent. Yield 1,800 pounds.  88h
  • North Carolina--1.7 million pounds, down 8.1 percent. Yield 1,900 pounds.
  • U.S.--143 million pounds, down 1.1 percent. Yield 1,747 pounds. 
  • Pennsylvania--3.8 million pounds, up nine percent. Yield 2,400 pounds.
  • Kentucky--8.6 million pounds, down 37.1 percent. Yield 1,800 pounds.
  • Tennessee--2.76 million pounds, down 18.1 percent. Yield 2,300 pounds.
  • U.S.--11.4 million pounds, down 33.1 percent. Yield 1,900 pounds.
  • Pennsylvania--3.84 million pounds, up two percent. Yield 2,400 pounds.
  • 664 million pounds, down seven percent. Yield 2,063 pounds.


Monday, October 3, 2016


A quarter or more of Virginia flue-cured remained to be harvested on October 1. Here, workers put leaf in balers on a farm near Skipwith, Va.

GEORGIA & FLORIDA--The last of Georgia's tobacco was expected to be harvested by today. Florida's harvest was finished several weeks ago. Serious problems were experienced with tomato spotted wilt virus and black shank this season. But J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist, says this was not the worst season for Deep South tobacco. He estimates that Georgians might average 2,100 pounds per acre on 13,000 acres, putting production in the range of 27 million pounds. Floridians may have averaged 2,600 pounds per acre on around 1,500 acres. for about four million pounds production...This was one of the worst years for tomato spotted wilt virus in the last 10, says Moore. The likely cause: favorable conditions in the spring for plants that serve as host plants for thrips, which spread spotted wilt.
SOUTH CAROLINA--All South Carolina's tobacco has been harvested, says William Hardee, S.C. area Extension agronomy agent for Horry and Marion Counties. Most was finished the last full week of September. It has been wet. "It seemed we had a month when we were dry and then a month when we had nothing but rain." The rain was less of a problem because most was out of the fields when it started. The heat, on the other hand, brought on diseases. "Bacte-rial wilt was the big problem, along with black shank," he says. He adds that it appears the quality will be decent.

NORTH CAROLINA--Harvest continues at a very fast pace, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "It is extremely fast ripening, and now we are backed up against first frost." Hurricane Hermine and the rains that followed it caused some 'green up' in the east because plants got access to nitrogen, he says. "That might interfere with ripening, but on the other hand, it might lead to a little more holdability." The Piedmont got very little rain as a result of the hurricane and tropical storms, he says.

VIRGINIA--A quarter or more of the Virginia flue-cured crop remained to be harvested on October 1. "Parts of this crop are going to be very late," says David Reed, Virginia Extension tobacco specialist. "It had been very dry. We have had rain over the entire tobacco area over the last 10 days, and now our tobacco is respond-ing to the rain. Farmers hope for a late frost." Production might approach con-tracted poundage if farmers can harvest it all. The quality so far looks good.

The intense May rains in the Piedmont that brought trans-planting to a tem-porary halt really caused farmers a management prob-lem: They had what was essentially two different crops--an early one and a late one. "Farmers  found themselves having to cultivate one field and top another and prime still another, all at the same time," says Reed...The north end of the tobacco belt seemed to have had better luck with the weather, said Chris Brown, Franklin Co. Extension agent. “We got rain most of the season.”


KENTUCKY--A very hot and dry September made it difficult to harvest in the Bluegrass, and cutting and hanging was moving slowly in much of the state. Jerry Rankin, a grower and owner of Farmers Tobacco Warehouse in Danville, estimates that perhaps 80 percent of the burley crop is in the barn. "We will be short of what the trade needs, maybe by 25 percent," he says. "We had one rain in August, then it was dry until we had a few showers last week. This is a thin crop." He noticed that when you cut tobacco one day and left it in the field, it would burn by the next day. "It dang near 'field cured'," he says. The first tobacco he cut is nearly done, and he plans on starting stripping the day he finishes harvest.

TENNESSEE--From 90 to 95 percent of the Tennessee burley crop has been harvested, says Don Fowlkes, manager for agronomy for Burley Stabilization Corporation. "Despite the dry weather, the curing is mostly okay so far in East Tennessee. Some is a good solid color already. But we have a lot of disease in the lower stalk positions." It was dry the whole season long but the crop could still turn out well. Market preparation could get going in earnest soon. Fowlkes knows of one farmer in southeastern Tennessee who started stripping last week. He is the first one Fowlkes has heard about. In middle Tennessee, there was so much rain in the early season to late July, then it got dry in August. The leaf is more thin bodied and the tips are ragged. The quality will be better in the upstalk rather than downstalk.

NORTH CAROLINA--Cutting and hanging in western N.C. seems to be complete, but no one is stripping yet. "It has been extremely dry," says Stanley Holloway, N.C. Extension burley coordinator. "But the crop was deep rooted so when it got some rains late in the season, it responded well. Now, it has ended up a pretty decent crop." But there could be a danger of flash curing if it continues dry," he says.

BLACK PATCH--Harvest of dark fired and dark air in Kentucky and Tennessee is almost over. "We are all but done," says Andy Bailey, Ky./Tn. Extension dark tobacco specialist. "The few remaining fields will be harvested this week." Quite a bit of this tobacco had to be harvested early because of angular leafspot and bacterial soft rot. "This is the worst crop I have seen in the 14 years I have been here in Princeton, Ky.," Bailey says. "We will probably fall 25 percent short of our potential." But the quality of the cured tobacco, which is just now being stripped, looks satisfactory.

VIRGINIA--Harvest of dark fire-cured was complete in September, with curing reportedly proceeding well. But it was a tough season. In Appomattox County, conditions were excessively wet through layby. "Then the rain stopped," says county Extension agent Bruce Jones. The drought wasn't broken until September 19. It was the first substantial rainfall in over two months.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016


The flue-cured crop in the Southside of Virginia was coming off well as the second full week of September began. This crew was harvesting on the David Buchanan farm near Skipwith, just north of the border with North Carolina.

VIRGINIA--This was one year when it really paid to irrigate in the Southside. "It was beautiful for a while but it turned off dry," says Keith Brankley of Skipwith. "We are irrigating now to keep it from burning up in the field." He expects yield will fall short of average, but the heat wasn't the main culprit. "We may be five to 10 percent short on pounds, because we had

Solar heat collected by a new solar barn helped David Buchanan save money on curing flue tobacco this season.
a lot of spots that got too much water." Green color from sunbaking isn't helping either. His brother-in-law and neighbor, David Buchanan, has passed the halfway point on harvest (see photo above). He is optimistic he will finish the first week of October, but many of his neighbors in Mecklenburg County have much farther to go. An early killing frost could cause real damage. In Lunenburg County, just north of Skipwith, heat is still the problem. "We've had some cooler days here and there, but it is still hot and dry overall," says Lindy Tucker,  Extension agriculture agent.  In adjacent Brunswick County, 'dry, humid and hot' best described the weather last week, says Cynthia Gregg, Extension agriculture agent. "Tobacco is yellowing quickly in the fields." USDA estimated that 52 percent of Virginia flue-cured had been harvested by the beginning of this week.

One way to cut curing costs: Buchanan bought a solar curing barn for this season, and the results have been good. "It is a Long Solar Eagle, and it uses a built-in solar collector to save fuel," he says. "It yellows more evenly due to heat from the collector on the top and sides. It seems I save about a day in curing." Long of Tarboro, N.C., will have Solar Eagles to sell this fall. "The Solar Eagle reduces fuel cost by 'actively' drawing fresh air for curing through the barn's integral solar collector where it is pre-heated before it reaches the barn's heat exchanger," says Bob Pope, general manager of Long Tobacco Barns. "This reduces the load on the barn's gas-fired burner, whether it be propane or natural gas." The barn's solar collector also transfers heat 'passively' to the curing chamber by direct conduction through its collector plate. Pope notes that a federal tax credit is available that reduces the cost of the Solar Eagle to less than that of a standard barn. For more information, call Long at 252 641 4796.

SOUTH CAROLINA--Much of the state's tobacco received heavy rains as a result of Hurricane Hermine. In Horry, S.C.'s largest leaf county, six+ plus inches of rain fell on September 2. The rain was needed but it brought harvest to a halt for much of last week. USDA estimates that about seven percent of S.C. tobacco remains to be picked.

NORTH CAROLINA--Tropical storm rains were a welcome event where they fell at the beginning of September. "Tobacco was in dire need of moisture," says Don Nicholson, N.C. Department of Agriculture regional agronomist. "There was little damage from the winds accompanying the storm." But conditions were so dry that more rain is direly needed now, he adds... Tobacco has matured earlier than normal in Harnett County this year and is not holding well, says Brian Parrish, county Extension agent. "Farmers are stripping tobacco fields, and this is putting pressure on the limited barn space available." Harvest will likely be finished by or before the end of September, he says...In Oxford, stripping of the remaining crop will probably begin next week, says Carl Watson, tobacco research specialist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture tobacco research station there. "The tobacco is deteriorating from all the sunshine"...USDA estimates that 73 percent of N.C. flue-cured has been harvested.

KENTUCKY--Farmers had harvested 57 percent of the crop by September 11, according to USDA. "Farmers have concerns over labor shortages for harvesting tobacco, as well as disease impacts and resulting weights," it added.

TENNESSEE--Hot and dry conditions last week allowed farmers to make great head-way with harvest, USDA reported. Tobacco producers cut an additional 16 percent more tobacco since last week with nearly half the crop now harvested. "Almost all of my tobacco producers are either done cutting or have started and close to finishing up," says Keith Jacob Boone, Extension agent in Hancock County in upper east Tennessee.

NORTH CAROLINA--About 50 percent of the burley crop in Yancey County in western N.C. had been cut by September 11, says Stanley Holloway, county Extension agent. For the state as a whole, USDA estimated that 34 percent had been harvested, well below the five-year average of 57 percent.

VIRGINIA--Burley harvest is well under way in Scott County in southwest Virginia. County agent Scott Jerrell said that through September 6, the crop appeared average... In nearby Grayson County, last week was a great week for harvest activities thanks to the lack of rain and hot temperatures, says county Extension Kevin Spurlin.

In other tobacco news...

Projections hold steady: USDA released its September projection of tobacco production on September 12. The volumes projected have changed only slightly for flue-cured and less than three percent for burley since the previous projection, on August 12. 
  • Flue-Cured: The September projections for the individual states are all the same or substantially the same as August's except for South Carolina, which is down 2.2 million pounds. The projection for all states is 474.1 million pounds, down 2.3 million pounds from a month ago.
  • Burley: The two leading states have declined since the August estimate by five million pounds-three million in Kentucky and two million in Tennessee. Pennsylvania increased slightly and Virginia and North Carolina were roughly the same. No other burley state participates in USDA surveys. The projection for these states is 145.7 million pounds, down 4.2 million pounds from a month ago.
  • Fire-Cured is down 2.5 million pounds from a month ago at 45.9 million pounds;
  • Dark Air-Cured is down 1.2 million pounds at 13.3 million pounds;
  • Pennsylvania Seedleaf is slightly above the last estimate at 3.8 million pounds;
  • Southern Maryland is unchanged from last month, also at 3.8 million pounds. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016


Virginia dark fire-cured tobacco appeared to have weathered the intense late-summer heat and has good prospects for yield and quality. But in the major dark-producing region of western Kentucky and north central Tennessee, the situation was quite different. PHOTO: This field was on display at the August 2 field day at the Southern Piedmont research station at Blackstone, Va.
BLACK PATCH--The dark crop in western Kentucky and north central Tennessee is having a hard time. Much of it had to be harvested early, says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. "It was wet so long. All the black shank came at once when it finally got a little dry three weeks agoSome fields with non-resistant varieties collapsed." In July, some places had 24 inches of rain. In August, some had 10 to 12 inches. The results were bad. "Production will be down 20 percent below original estimates, although that could be affected if substantial acres were planted beyond contracts." Throughout the season, dark tobacco in Tennessee suffered slightly less stringent weather extremes. "The crop there is better than in Kentucky for sure," say Bailey. Ironically, the burley that is grown in the Black Patch suffered more than the dark types, he adds.

VIRGINIA (Dark)--Robert Mills of Callands, Va., near Danville, finished harvesting his dark fire-cured four days ago. Some of it has been in the barn for three weeks. Normally he would "fire" the barns after 10 days, but he has fired nothing so far so as not to lower the humidity in the barns. "To this point, the dark tobacco looks real good," says Mills.

TENNESSEE--Despite a tough growing season, the burley crop in east Tennessee and neighboring areas of Virginia and North Carolina has done "surprisingly well" this season, says Don Fowlkes, manager of agronomy for the Burley Stabilization Corporation cooperative. He is expecting a close to average overall crop if a decent curing season is experienced. "The crop has suffered from lack of rain. It has been hot and dry for the most part. Two weeks ago we had a general rain, but it wasn't enough, and some areas will not fare well"... Much of middle Tennessee got too much precipitation. "Finally, a week without rain," said Ronnie Barron, Tn. Extension agent in Cheatham County near Nashville on August 28. "Tobacco harvest is in full swing."

KENTUCKY--Burley condition varies drastically between regions, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "Central Kentucky has a fairly good crop, but southern Kentucky has had a hard time with drowned tobacco and frogeye leafspot." There is a lot of concern about the possibility of frogeye leafspot resistance to Quadris, he says. "Some growers who applied Quadris did not get the level of control they expected. But there may be other explanations and so far, we have not confirmed any resistance yet." Perhaps 30 to 40 percent of the burley has been harvested, he says. "I suspect our average yield will be below average," Pearce says.

FLORIDA AND GEORGIA--"Nothing special but a good crop." That seems to be the assessment of the Deep South flue-cured as harvest winds down. J. Michael Moore, Extension tobacco specialist for these two states, says, "We still have tobacco in the fields, and it is all ripe. Everyone agrees that finishing harvest would be very timely. More than a quarter is still in the field." The farmers are moving as fast as they can, but there may be a delay as a result of Tropical Storm Hermine, which is expected to cross over the tobacco-growing area. It might bring needed rain, but for most of the crop, that will probably be too late to be much help. The leaf at the Type 14 markets seems to be a little darker than in recent years, probably because farmers have been trying to produce ripe yellow leaf for the China market. Not much lemon leaf is being produced this season, but Moore says Chinese buyers seem to like the orange to light orange tobacco that is coming to market. "Overripe is in demand and bringing the high dollar," says Moore.

SOUTH CAROLINA--It appears they have a fair crop, but farmers in South Carolina have to be disappointed about what could have been. "The crop got off to a very good start. It was well above average in quality," says William Hardee, S.C. Extension agronomy agent for Horry and Marion Counties. "But then we had two or three weeks of 100-degree temperatures and not much rainfall. We got heat stress and that was followed by bacterial wilt and some black shank." Now there is a lot of sun-baked tobacco, especially in the top of the plant. Harvest will be finished in one or two weeks, Hardee says.

NORTH CAROLINA--In the East, farmers are scrambling to get their flue-cured out of the field, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "Most fields have what might be two primings left, but farmers will probably try to get it all in one." Parts of the Piedmont are in worse shape. "Some there are just finishing their first harvest," says Vann. "That is scary late. For this tobacco, the farmers will need to harvest fromOctober 5 to October 20. That leaves us with at most 45 days till first frost." Some Piedmont farmers didn't complete transplanting till the first two weeks of June. "That is a red flag. They need to get it out by the first week of October but may not make it. Frost can come noticeably sooner than in the east."

VIRGINIA--Flue-cured in Virginia looks pretty good, although it could still use some rain, says Bill Scruggs of the Virginia Department of Agriculture.  "We are probably 10 days behind over all." Much of the crop was planted relatively late.  "We are probably 10 days behind overall" ...  Mills, the grower from Callands, Va., says there was too much rain early, then excessive heat. "Now there is not a lot of water," he says. "But we could have a good flue-cured crop if we can finish it."

A new auction in N.C.--The Horizon Ltd. Tobacco warehouse began holding sealed bid auctions at its location at 1705 Cargill Ave. in Wilson on August 17. Through the end of August, it had held four sales and sold roughly a half million pounds. Through the season, Horizon will be selling every Wednesday and also on Mondays if the supply warrants. For more information, call warehouse owner Kenneth Kelly at 252 292 8822.

Other auction warehouses currently operating include (with contact phone numbers):
  • Big M Warehouse, Wilson, N.C., 919 496 9033; and
  • Old Belt Tobacco Sales, Rural Hall, N.C. (near Winston-Salem), 336 416 6262.
If you know of any other companies auctioning flue-cured this season, please share the information with Editor Chris Bickers at 919 789 4631. A list of burley auctions will appear here later.


A book for those with memories of burley in Tennessee and N.C.  
Enjoy the recollections of 14 current and former burley growers along with a detailed narrative of the history of burley in America stretching back to the Jamestown Era. It will be an ideal present for anyone who recalls the "old days" in burley with affectionFor a copy, send $25 to co-author Chris Bickers at 903-9 Shellbrook Ct., Raleigh, N.C. 27609. Or phone him at 919 789 4631 (or

Bickers Editing Service, 903-9 Shellbrook Ct., Raleigh, NC 27609
Sent by in collaboration with
Constant Contact

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


In N.C., USDA estimated flue-cured production down four percent, in part because of situations like this. This field of flue-cured at the research station in Oxford, N.C., was planted very late thanks to a rainy spring. The last of it went in the first week of June, at least two weeks late. Then came more some connected with strong winds that blew over stalks. About half the stalks in this field had been blown down and had to be stood back up.

USDA released its August projection of tobacco production August 12. At this point, South Carolina appears to be enjoying the best conditions and is expected to produce 28 percent more than a year ago. North Carolina flue-cured is projected to down four percent. All the other flue-cured states are expected to be up a small amount. All but two of the burley states in the survey are projected to be up a bit. North Carolina is projected down 17 percent. Following: Production projections plus estimated change by state from 2015.
FLUE-CURED: North Carolina--363 million pounds, down four per cent. Virginia--50.4 million pounds, up two percent. South Carolina--33.35 million pounds, up 28 percent. Georgia--29.7 million pounds, down eight percent. All U.S.-- 476.4 million pounds, down two per cent. BURLEY: Kentucky--114 million pounds, up nine percent. Tennessee--21 million pounds, up two percent. Pennsylvania--11 million pounds, up two percent. North Carolina--1.5 million pounds, down 17 percent. Virginia--2.3 million pounds, down two percent. All U.S.--149.9 million pounds, up 3.6 percent. SO. MARYLAND: Pennsylvania-- 3.8 million pounds, up nine per cent. FIRE-CURED: Kentucky--25.6 million pounds, down 19 per cent. Tennessee--22.2 million pounds down seven percent. Virginia--550 thousand pounds, down four percent. All U.S.--48.4 million pounds, down eight percent. DARK AIR-CURED: Kentucky--11.2 million pounds, down 18 per cent. Tennessee--3.2 million pounds, down one percent. All U.S. 14.5 million pounds, down 15 percent. CIGAR FILLER: Pennsylvania Seedleaf--3.7 million pounds, no change. ALL U.S. TOBACCO--697 million pounds, down three percent.

Just because tobacco is rejected at the receiving station does not mean that the tobacco is inferior. I have found that this decision--tobacco being rejected--is based on several factors, [among them] supply, and also the ability of tobacco companies to purchase that same grade in other parts of the world for a cheaper price. We all remember 1996 and Hurricane Fran. I saw tobacco purchased on the auction floor that was at one time stored, over ten years old and rotten, for a $1.96 a pound, top price then. The demand was so great that year, quality did not make a difference. The same holds  true today. It is not a quality issue, rather it is a supply/demand issue. Is supply abundant? More tobacco rejected. Is supply short? Less tobacco rejected. The criteria for grading tobacco changes with supply and demand, not quality.
Tom Blair, Virginia  

1723 Goldsboro St. SW, Wilson, N.C., 
in the old Liberty Warehouse
Mann Mullen is the owner of Big M auction warehouse in Wilson, N.C.
We hold sealed bid auctions
We promise 
We will be GAP certified 
For more information, contact Mann Mullen at 919-496-9033 
or the warehouse switchboard at 252-206-1447.


209 Harding St., Danville, Ky.
PH: 859-236-4932

Full-service burley warehouse

Jerry Rankin, Owner

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