Saturday, October 6, 2018


Three days of Hurricane Florence turned the promising tobacco on the left into the marginally salvageable mess on the right. Gusting winds were the main problem as they whipped leaves up and down causing premature ripening. These pictures were taken in the same field in Wilson County, N.C.
Photos courtesy of Norman Harrell, Wilson Cooperative Extension Service.

NORTH CAROLINA--"Tobacco harvest is over, and not in the good way," says Don Nicholson, N.C. Department of Agriculture regional agronomist who covers the counties around Raleigh, Smithfield and Wilson. In Duplin County, "All the tobacco that is still in the field is damaged severely and no good, says Blake Sandlin, county Extension agent. In Franklin County, flue-cured is now showing the signs of hurricane damage. "The tips arequickly turning orange and drying up," says Charles Mitchell, Extension agent. "We are experiencing barn rot and brown stems. Decisions are currently being made whether to continue harvesting or stop." Many Franklin County growers had 50 percent of their crop remaining in the field prior to Florence. In Craven County, unharvested tob-acco and corn left in fields were badly damaged, says Mike Carroll, county Extension agent. "(It is) unlikely to be harvested simply due to excessively wet soils and rapid decay of leaf/kernels."

SOUTH CAROLINA--The area north and west of Myrtle Beach, S.C., where most of the state's tobacco is grown, was one of the hardest hit spots in the state during Florence. Fortunately, very little tobacco remained in the field at the time. "Only about 200 to 400 acres still had leaf to be harvested," says William Hardee, S.C. area Extension agronomy agent for Horry and Marion Counties. "All of that suffered from beating by 70 to 80 mph wind gusts and 18 to 23 inches of rain. This triggered a plant response that caused leaf to overripen and turn yellow, then brown. "Some of it might have been salvageable, but then we had to wait for soils to dry so we could get back into the field. I am afraid all the tobacco left after the storm will turn out to be a complete loss." There were some farmers that lost a few barns of tobacco when the power went out as well. Intense autumn storms are becoming a way of life in the Pee Dee, says Hardee. "We have had this kind of weather three of the last four years."

KENTUCKY--They weren't connected with Florence, but near constant rains last month wreaked havoc on the burley crop in Central Kentucky and some other parts of the state. "It rained nearly every day during the last full week of September," says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "Stalled fronts allowed wave after wave of rain to come over
Bacterial leaf drop took its toll on Kentucky burley in September.
us." Among other things, the rain has led to a significant problem with bacterial leaf drop. "Some fields have lost more than 50 percent of their leaves," says Pearce. He says with all the rain-related losses, the final volume for the Kentucky burley crop may be 25 to 30 percent below the USDA September estimate.

TENNESSEE--At least 80 percent of the East Tennessee crop has been harvested, and most of that should be harvested very soon. This area was not impacted by Hurricane Florence, but there has been plenty of rain, says Don Fowlkes, agronomist for the Burley Stabilization Corporation. "We have had a few fields that have had some bacterial leaf drop and some leaves have dropped off. But a good yield is still a possibility"...Good news from the curing barn: "The industry has been promoting red color in cured burley for several years," says Fowlkes. "From what I have seen, 2018 may be one of the redder curing crops we have had."

BLACK PATCH--The dark crop in the Kentucky and Tennessee is the best in several years, says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist for the two states. At least 75 percent of Kentucky-Tennessee dark fired has been harvested, while perhaps 90 percent of dark air-cured is out of the field. Production? At this point, Bailey estimates 56 million pounds of dark fired and 18 to 19 million pounds of dark air-cured, or maybe a bit more... Bailey reports that there has been an outbreak in dark tobacco of flea beetles in the last few weeks, which is very late in the season. Some of them reached the threshold for treatment. "I can never remember a threshold situation late in the season if imidacloprid had been used on transplants," Bailey says. Some farmers made foliar applications with Admire Pro, but the results weren't great, he says. Others applied Orthene, again without much success. Carbaryl and lannate were other control choices.  In many cases it took two applications to control the flea beetles present at these high levels, he says.

How much remains to be harvested? According to USDA, also of October 1, nine percent of Virginia flue-cured was still to be harvested, compared to 14 percent of North Carolina flue-cured. Harvest in South Carolina and Georgia is substantially complete. Eighteen percent ofKentucky burley was still in the field, said USDA, compared to 10 percent in Tennessee and 42 percent in North Carolina.

In other tobacco-related news:

Cooperative CEO out: Robert B. Fulford Jr. has left the position of Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Tobacco Cooperative., which he took just last February. He will be replaced temporarily by Oscar House, USTC's Senior Vice President of Manufacturing. House will serve as Interim CEO and President while a search is conducted for Fulford's successor. Note: The cooperative has had two CEO's in the last two years. Stuart Thompson left in the summer of 2017.

New name for Alliance One--but not for its tobacco segment. The leaf dealer Alliance One Inc. has adopted a new name--Pyxus International Inc.--that it has attached to all of its segments except for its tobacco division, which will continue to be called Alliance One.


Sales every Tuesday through the season.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Hustling to beat the hurricanes: Workers hustle to get flue-cured leaf in barns in Wake County, N.C. (File photo by Chris Bickers)
With Florence bearing down, many of the flue-cured growers along the Atlantic Coast faced intense weather conditions with significant tobacco still in the field. Georgia might dodge the bullet since the path of the storm is expected to pass by it, and most of its crop has been harvested already (95 percent as of September 9, according to USDA). But South Carolina still had 10 percent unharvested, Virginia 35 percent, and in North Carolina, Extension specialist Matthew Vann reckons that 40 to 45 percent of the fields still have enough tobacco in them to be negatively affected by Florence.

And the effect can be severe, Vann says. "You can expect heavy rains and very strong winds, and that will cause leaf whipping," he says. "It appears that we can expect at least a three-or-four-day wind. With the intensity of the conditions expected, the leaf is going to ripen extremely fast." To make matters worse, it has been coming off fast the last few weeks, and Vann feels most growers are already maxed out on barn space...What to do? Well, in the short term, the goal should be to minimize the leaf you lose as a result of electrical failure during the cure. Grant Ellington, Extension agricultural engineer at N.C. State, provided an excellent set of recommendations a few storms ago. I am going to print it below in hopes it will help you prepare for the worst.
Curing Tips
Should adverse weather cause the loss of electrical current to the tobacco curing barn and a backup generator is not available, listed below are some tips that are recommended in order to minimize leaf damage.

For tobacco that is being cured, the damage that might be sustained is related to the stage of cure when the power is lost and the condition of the tobacco when it is loaded into the barn. Tobacco that is in the very early or late stages of curing generally fairs the best when the power is out for extended periods. The following guidelines are useful when generator capacity is limited or not available:
  • Yellowing (95 degrees WB/100 degrees DB) - about 24 hours - This period can be extended if the tobacco can be cooled to near outside temperatures before power outage occurs or as soon as possible after the outage occurs. Thereafter, the heat should be flushed every hour if the generator capacity is not sufficient to continue the cure normally. If a generator is not available, all air vents and doors should be opened to allow as much heat as possible to escape.
  • Late yellowing/early leaf drying (105 degrees WB/105-115 degrees DB) - about 6 hours - This is the most critical period for damage and the tobacco should be cooled as soon as possible by any means available, with the heat being flushed every hour as suggested above. If sufficient generator capacity is not available and your area is expecting severe damage, tobacco that would be in this stage of curing during a prolonged power outage might be more profitable to the grower if it had not harvested.
  • Leaf drying (105 degrees WB/120-135 DB) - about 24 hours - Extend the safe period by cooling as suggested above. Stem drying (110 degrees WB/150 degrees + DB) - several days - Attention to these barns can be delayed in order to provide attention to barns in the earliest stages of curing.
Barn Loading Considerations
Damage to tobacco during power outages is usually more severe in boxes than racks and particularly when containers are not loaded uniformly or loaded with wet tobacco. Therefore, tobacco harvested between now and the time the threat is passed should be harvested dry, loaded uniformly, and perhaps the containers should be loaded lighter than normal in order to maximize air movement and cooling potential should a power outage occur.
Don't forget about your greenhouses.  "Roll up curtains tight and secure doors," says Norman Harrell, Extension director in Wilson County, N.C. "If we lose power, you need to have backup power for the greenhouses to keep the plastic layers fully inflated." 
In East Tennessee, 2018 is beginning to look like a better-than-average season. "We have a good-looking crop," says Don Fowlkes, Agronomy Manager, Burley Stabilization Corporation. "There were the normal seasonal challenges, but now it appears that we have decent weight and the outlook for good quality also." At least half has been harvested and curing has gone well. Growers got a break in the first few weeks of curing. "It has beenunusually hot the past two or three weeks, but we have had good humidity so the tobacco hasn't cured too fast." Fowlkes has hopes that this crop may have plenty of the reddish color that buyers are looking for.

In Kentucky, a fairly dark color seems on the way too, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension toba-cco specialist. So far, there hasn't been significant flash curing. Like Tennessee, Kentucky has plenty of humidity. Maybe too much. Pearce fears there may be a problem of houseburn. Some Kentuckians got rain from Tropical Storm Gordon, but there hasn't been much rain since Sunday, Pearce says. "But it continues cloudy. We have had no sunshine for some time." More than half the Kentucky burley crop has been harvested, says Pearce.  "But not much more."

The September USDA Crop Report was released at noon. Flue-cured tobacco production is expected to total 415 million pounds, the report says, down 10 percent from 2017. Burley tobacco production is expected to total 129 million pounds, down 20 percent from last year. Production projections by type and by state for flue-cured and burley follow.
  • Flue-cured: North Carolina--322 million pounds, down 10.2 percent. Virginia--48.4 million pounds, down 4.3 percent. Georgia 22.5 million pounds, down 14.2 percent. South Carolina--21.600 million pounds, down 14.2 percent.                                                               
  • Burley: Kentucky--106 million pounds million pounds, down 17.9 percent. Tennessee 10.200 million pounds, down 43.3 percent. North Carolina--1.360 million pounds, down 15.2 percent. Pennsylvania--10 million pounds, down 3.3 percent. Virginia--1.8 million pounds, down 18.1 percent.
  • Fire-cured: 57.772 million pounds, down 2.9 percent.        
  • Dark air-cured: 26.1 million pounds, up 29.5 percent.
  • Pennsylvania seedleaf: 5.76 million pounds, up 33.3 percent.         
  • Southern Maryland: 3.2 million pounds, down 25.4 percent.
Note--The only types that (according to USDA) increased in production over 2017 are dark air-cured and Pennsylvania seedleaf, neither of which is used in cigarettes.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018


This tobacco was offered for sale in a live auction last Wednesday at the American Tobacco Exchange in Wilson, N.C. Sales continue today at ATE, Horizon Tobacco and Big M Warehouse, all in Wilson. Live auctions are conducted at Old Belt Sales in Rural Hall, N.C., on Tuesdays.

The market for flue-cured lugs has improved slightly in the last two weeks. The ware-housemen I have talked to are confident that all sound tobacco that is offered at auction, including lugs, will find a buyer. "But it will be at a price," Kenneth Kelly of Horizon Tobacco in Wilson, N.C., told me. "This season all our buyers are very price conscious."

Two warehouses--Horizon and American Tobacco Exchange--are offering live auctions every Wednesday till the end of the season. Horizon is also offering silent auctions, as is Big M Warehouse of Wilson. Why? "We decided to meet the demand of the farmers," says Kelly. "We are offering live and silent auctions now, and we will see which commands the most interest over the season." He thinks some of the desire by farmers for a live auction is based on sentiment, on getting back to the old days. Others have said the live auctions are more

transparent. But Kelly finds this belief unconvincing. "Silent auc-tions are just as transparent. If one of my customers wants to know something about the sale, all he has to do is ask me."

How long will the flue-cured auction season last? In the last few years, Horizon has held its last sales in November, but Kelly is worried that this crop won't last that long. "It is ripening at a very fast pace here (around Wilson)."

In the Piedmont of North Carolina, the crop seems to be improving at the Old Belt Sales warehouse in Rural Hall near Winston-Salem. "We had a good sale Tuesday," said Dennis White, owner of the warehouse. "Throwaway lugs were still bringing 80 cents a pound. But lugs with color and body were selling for $1.10 a pound, and if they were orange, $1.25 to $1.30." A few leaf grades were sold at $1.90. "They were sold too early. Those grades will bring more later." A few cutter grades went for $1.75 to $1.80. Old Belt Sales will conduct an auction every Tuesday for the duration of the season.

Reports from the field

Coastal Plain: Growers are pushing to get tobacco out of the field in Robeson County, says Mac Malloy, Extension agent. "Conditions remain dry and rain would be welcome," he says...In the counties around Raleigh, Smithfield and Wilson. Farmers are also in need of a rain, says Don Nicholson, NC Department of Agriculture agronomist. "Tobacco growers are attempting to fill every available curing barn to save as much of the crop as possible," he says...In Craven County, harvest is proceeding quickly due to rapid leaf decay, says Mike Carroll, Extension agent. He earlier reported "wildly variable" crop conditions. "As example, we have fields of tobacco completely harvested, yet there are fields yet to be harvested at all.

Piedmont: The area around Winston-Salem could produce a very good quality crop, says Dennis White [see above], but it may not be real heavy. "We had good weather most of the season, but recently we have had 10 days of 90-degree weather. So it may not weigh a lot. But

it looks to be on the overripe side"...Close to Virginia, soil moistures have increased thanks to recent rainfall, says Caswell County Extension agent Joey Knight. Caswell borders Virginia and is quite close to Danville. Tobacco growers are getting only light weights on tobacco that was planted late. "Early planted tobacco [however] is looking great with good yields. The X and C grades are already harvested," Knight says... In the Virginia Piedmont, Bruce Jones, Extension agent in Appomattox County, says that much of the county received in excess of one inch of rainfall on September 1. "This week will be busy with dark tobacco harvesting and curing," he says.

Mountains: Torrential rains in some areas of Smyth County [Va.] and surrounding counties have resulted in isolated damage to rural roads and fields, says Andy Overbay, Extension agent. "Continued wet weather has damaged the [burley] tobacco crop, but with harvest fast approaching those issues should be contained"... Rainfall from one weekend storm in late August ranged from four to eight inches, says Stanley Holloway, Yancey County [N.C.] agent. "Limited field work [was done] due to wet soils. Crop stage and conditions vary incredibly due to total accumulation of rainfall over the past few weeks." But a relatively dry week through September 2 allowed for some progress in the field.

How much flue-cured has been harvested? As of September 4, USDA estimated that 91 percent of the Georgia crop, 70 percent of the South Carolina crop, 58 percent of the North Carolina crop and 58 percent of the Virginia crop had been harvested.

And burley: 41 percent of the Kentucky crop, 35 percent of the Tennessee crop and 19 percent of the North Carolina crop had been harvested. In Pennsylvania, where three types--including burley--are grown, 69 percent of all types had been harvested. In Kentucky, 84 percent of the Kentucky crop had been topped.

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Sales every Tuesday through the season.
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Thursday, August 23, 2018


Opening sales took place this week for most of the flue-cured auction warehouses, and the prices offered were not encouraging. Best quality lugs generally about $1.20 per pound. Contrast that to the scene in this photo, taken at a sale at the Old Belt auction in Rural Hall (near Winston-Salem, N.C.) in the relatively "good old days" of 2012. Best quality lugs brought around $1.60 at auction at the first sale that year. Identifiable along the line are sales leader Bill Jessup (left), auctioneer Chuck Jordan (second from left) and Brent Tilley of Vaughn Tobacco (right). The Old Belt warehouse holds its first sale next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

THIS IS A GOOD FLUE-CURED CROP, says Rick Smith, president of Independent Leaf Tobacco, a leaf dealer in Wilson, N.C. "The tobacco coming out of the barn looks better than expected. There is some very useable downstalk tobacco in it."

Unfortunately, that was not the message the market was sending when auction warehouses opened on August 22. One very disgruntled warehouseman (who asked to remain anonymous), said buyers clearly don't want to buy lugs from this crop. "The highest price for lugs I saw was $1.20, and that was for really good leaf. Plain X tobacco was bringing around 80 cents."

Is China buying or not? The impression among dealers was that the Chinese have decided to honor their contracts with US Tobacco Cooperative and some individual growers it has previously contracted with. But they have been lead to expect that there will be no other Chinese purchases of U.S. flue-cured this year. 
First it was wet in N.C. Then it was dry. Now it is too wet again. "For the past three or four weeks, it seems we have always had rain (in eastern N.C.)," says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "It has slowed harvest because we can't get into the field." Also, the rain has caused the crop to "green up." "It is going to be a challenge to get what we need to get done in August. The crop might come off all at one time. But there is time to finish what we need to finish if it will stop raining. We need drying time. All told, we still have the possibility of a good crop."

Most growers in the East are probably about one to three weeks behind schedule, says Vann. In the N.C. Piedmont, rain caused more of a delay in transplanting, so farmers there may be more like two to four weeks behind. Even though there have been several years recently when the first killing frost was later than usual, you have to assume that first frost will fall around October 10. A crop that is still green at that time could be a big problem.

It's been wet in Kentucky too. "There's been a long stretch of unsettled weather," says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "We have had a lot of rain. It hasn't been solid--more off and on--but it has been enough to slow our harvest. And we have had so much humidity that it may compromise the curing." He recommends managing your cure for good airflow and especially get a good spacing of stalks on the stick. "And do everything you can to get the crop harvested as quickly as possible."

County and regional reports:

In Southeast N.C., the tobacco crop has by and large benefited from recent rainfall, says Tyler Whaly, N.C. Department of Agriculture agronomist for the region including Sampson County. "[It] has allowed for additional growth and leaf expansion of middle and upperstalk positions." Now, soilborne and foliar diseases have become a major issue due to extended periods of leaf wetness and additional pathogen movement through the soil.  "Most growers are behind in harvesting.  It will be very challenging to save the crop due to limited barn space and rapid deterioration in the field."

In the N.C. Piedmont, the tobacco crop is highly variable based on timing of rain, says Brandon Poole, NCDA agronomist for Region 8 which includes Guilford, Granville and other Piedmont counties. "Tobacco that was planted on time seems to be the best in the region for yield and quality. The late-planted crop is short, and quality is poor on lower stalk position leaves, but recent rainfall has helped in filling out upperstalk leaves"...In general, the crop looks good in Lee County, N.C. (south-west of Raleigh), says Zachary Taylor, county Extension agent. "[But] some fields greened up with recent rains and will be very late ripening. Frost may be a concern before all of the crop is in the barn."

In the Piedmont of Virginia, dark tobacco harvest in Appomattox County is under way on many farms. "It is progressing well between the rainy days," says Bruce Jones, Extension tobacco agent. "Topping continues on burley."

In Western N.C., topping is beginning on the burley crop. "Drier weather was a welcome change," says Stanley Holloway, Yancey County Extension agent, near Asheville. "Most areas received only a trace to 0.25 inches of rain last week. Temperatures were cooler with highs mainly in the upper 70s to lower 80's and lows mainly in the mid to upper 50s."

USDA Crop Report: Flue-cured down, burley way down. The first projection of the full 2018 crop by USDA agency National Agricultural Statistics Service's (NASS) indicated that burley production in the United States as of August 1 is expected to total 133 million pounds, down 17 percent from last year. Flue-cured tobacco production is expected to total 430 million pounds, down seven percent from 2017. Among the types and producing states:
  • FLUE-CURED: North Carolina--331.8 million pounds, down 7.47 percent. Virginia--50.6 million pounds, no change. Georgia--26.25 million pounds, no change. South Carolina--21.6 million pounds, 14.2 percent.
  • BURLEY: Kentucky--104.5, down 19 percent. Tennessee--15.3 million pounds, down 15 percent. Pennsylvania--10 million pounds, down 3.3 percent. Virginia--1,800 million pounds, down 18.1 percent. North Carolina--1.36, down 5.5 percent.
  • FIRE-CURED: 54.7 million pounds down 7.9 percent. 
  • DARK AIR-CURED: 19.6 million pounds, down 2.7 percent. 
  • SOUTHERN MARYLAND: 3,360 million pounds, 22.2 percent.
  • PENNSYLVANIA SEEDLEAF: 5.76 million pounds, up 3.3 percent.

How much flue-cured has been harvested? USDA estimates that by August 20, 77 percent of the Georgia crop had been harvested compared to 45 percent in South Carolina; 41 percent in North Carolina crop, and 39 percent in Virginia. Florida wasn't included but it was presumed 100 percent.



Our first sale will take place August 28 at 10 a.m.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


 You saw a lot of this in eastern N.C. in July: A farmer knocks trashy bottom leaves off his flue-cured using a mechanical delugger during the hot, dry spell in July. "In a year like this one, it was a good tool to have," says Bryant Lancaster of Lancaster Farms near Stantonsburg, N. C. "It eliminates a good portion of trashy lower leaves that we had because of the bad weather." But since this picture was taken on July 17, Lancaster's farm has gotten considerable rain.

Harvest is going on at full speed in Florida and Georgia, although farmers are having to work around showers, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist. Floridians may be finished by the end of next week. Georgians aren't that far along, although Moore says that harvest of the crop at the research station in Tifton should be finished next Wednesday. The availability of labor has been a major problem for Georgia-Florida tobacco this year, he says.

How far has harvest gotten in the flue-cured states? According to the USDA agency National Agricultural Statistics Service, through July 29: Georgia farmers had harvested 54 percent of its crop; South Carolina, 21 percent, North Carolina (flue), 17 percent harvested, and Virginia (flue), 11 percent. No burley had been harvested by that date, NASS said, but Kentucky growers have topped 33 percent of their burley and Tennessee 50 percent.

The marketing season got off to an encouraging start when U.S. Tobacco Cooperative began taking deliveries at its Georgia marketing center in Nashville last week. "All stalk positions were represented, and overall, the deliveries look pretty good.," says Moore.

Recent rains have improved conditions in eastern North Carolina. "But there are isolated areas that have received too much rain, negatively affecting tobacco," says Don Nicholson, N.C. Department of Agriculture regional agronomist. North of Raleigh, Franklin County is finally receiving much-needed rains, says Charles Mitchell, Franklin County Extension agent. "But for some fields of tobacco, it is too late," he added.
The certainties about burley marketing in 2018, according to Don Fowlkes, agronomy manager for the Burley Stabilization Corporation. "Red-leaf style burley tobacco is in

 demand in the market-place. Quality is the key to having a product that buyers want. Yield is the key to being profitable, and both quality and yield are necessary for staying in business."

When should you cut burley? Cutting early sacri-fices yield. Cutting late sacrifices quality and fre-quently yield. "In most years for most varieties, early means before three to four weeks after topping and late means more than five to seven weeks after," says Fowlkes. Five weeks is a reasonable average target. "Certainly, let most crops stand at least four weeks, Fowlkes says.

The best dark tobacco crop since 2014? Despite a shortage of plants, the dark tobaccos of western Kentucky and Tennessee are looking very good right now, and a better than average yield seems quite possible, says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. It has benefited by timely rains.

About 70 percent of the crop has been topped as of the end of July. Some dark tobacco that is grown for cigar wrapper has been harvested, but for most other plantings, harvest is at least two weeks away.

Dicamba problem in dark: At least 300 acres of dark have been contaminated by dicamba in fields close to dicamba-resistant soybeans. Bailey says this tobacco is unmarketable. He

thinks the problem was not so much due to physical drift by the chemical but rather to temperature inversions from dicamba applica-tions made to soybeans in late June and July.
A new foliar spray for target spot: According to California manufacture Marrone Bio, Stargus Biofungicide provides target spot control when applied at a rate of two to three quarts per acre, by itself or in a tank mix with Quadris. It is also registered for blue mold control, sprayed on at a rate of four quarts per acre as soon as symptoms appear. It has a short re-entry time of four hours and is approved for use on organic tobacco.


  • August 9, 5:30 p.m. Dark Tobacco Twilight Tour at the West Farm, Murray State University, in Murray, Ky.
  • August 13, 1 p.m. The Kentucky Burley Tobacco Industry Tour will be held on August 13  and 14, starting at 1 p.m. on the 13th at the University of Kentucky Spindletop Research Farm in Lexington. On the 14th, the tour will return to Spindletop at 8 a.m. and travel to research and demonstration plots in Central Kentucky.