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

  Call for information.


Monday, August 1, 2016


This is what happens when you get 14½ inches of rain in three days: The Upper Coastal Plain 
Research Station in Rocky Mount, N.C., received had 9½ inches of rain on July 16 and five
 inches on July 19. Photo: Dominic Reisig, NCSU.



NORTH CAROLINA: The Carolinas had better luck with rainfall than much of the Tobacco Belt. In some places, there was too much. "We had 9 ½ inches of rain on July 16 and five inches on July 19," says Clyde Bogle, superintendent of the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station in Rocky Mount, N.C. "Some was destroyed by rain and is not worth harvesting. The rain was accompanied by wind, and the tobacco got beat up pretty bad." But about 75 percent of the crop made it through the rain event and is doing well now, he thinks. "It looks like the tobacco we get to harvest will give a satisfactory yield. We have completed topping and sucker control, and priming should begin this week." Because of the rain and wind, it is expected to ripen faster than normal.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Tobacco harvest is well under way in the Pee Dee area of northern South Carolina. "We have a really good-looking crop now," says William Hardee, area Extension agronomy agent in Horry and Marion Counties. "It looks like it has good weight." Although much of the state has suffered from drought, Hardee says the tobacco area has been fortunate in getting adequate rainfall. "But it has been hot and dry most of the last two weeks. We are getting some heat stress now." There was some disease earlier but so far it has been contained. Most farmers are on their second cropping. The jury is still out on the quality of this crop, but Hardee thinks that a clearer picture should emerge in a couple of weeks.

GEORGIA-FLORIDA: Intense heat has affected the tobacco (all flue-cured) in Florida and Georgia. "We are still having 100 degree temperatures," says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist who covers Florida also. "In Florida last week I saw leaf curing right on the stalk, especially near the edges of fields where trees suck water out of the soil." He says plants are drying up from the top down and will lose yield and quality. But there also a few "mudholes" where the rain seems not to have stopped. It has frequently been accompanied by wind and many plants have been blown over. USDA has estimated that 27 percent of the Georgia crop has been harvested, and Florida will certainly be ahead of that.  In Candler County, Ga., just west of Savannah, Extension agent Chris Earls says farmers finished up the last of their tobacco harvest by July 31.

VIRGINIA: Harvesting has begun on the flue-cured crop, but there is still a lot topping to do. The biggest problem has been spotty rain the last month, says David Reed, Virginia Extension tobacco specialist. "We have some areas that have had too much water and some areas where farmers are irrigating. The flue-cured crop is going to be a late crop. I would estimate it at two weeks behind schedule." In southwest Virginia, the traditional burley-growing area, it has been very dry, and crop development there has been slowed as well. In Appomattox County, hot and dry conditions are taking their toll, says Bruce Jones, Extension tobacco agent. "Lower tobacco leaves on all three types are burning at margins." Some tobacco irrigation has begun as producers hope for rain, he says.


KENTUCKY: There's been "way too much rain" in the Bluegrass, says grower-warehouseman Jerry Rankin of Danville, Ky. "And much of our tobacco didn't need it," he says. "It has rained almost every day for the last two weeks." Some tobacco won't make it to the barn, perhaps in the eight percent range, he says. "Especially in the low-lying places." USDA estimates that about 24 percent (all types) has been topped.

BLACK PATCH: The dark-tobacco-producing area of western Kentucky and north central Tennessee have had way too much water this season. "We can't seem to miss a rain," says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. "We had eight or nine days without rain toward the end of the month, but then we got two to three inches in two days right at the end, causing more water damage." Farmers got 12 inches to 20 inches in July, he says. The production loss may be up to 25 percent. Perhaps 40 percent has been topped.

TENNESSEEThe rain was excessive in July in much of middle Tennessee too, right up to the end of the month. Paul Hart, Extension agent in Robertson County, says some dark tobacco harvesting began two weeks ago--a little early--because of the weather. Leafspot and weather flecking have both been problems, he says. There has been wind damage leading to crooked stalks, a real problem if you're trying to get your sucker control chemical to run down the stalk, as dark growers do. 

NORTH CAROLINA: Drought conditions prevailed for most of the summer in the burley-growing areas near Asheville. But in the last week of July, scattered thunderstorms brought heavy rain showers to some areas of Yancey County, says Stanley Holloway, county Extension agent. But other areas received very little. There were instances of as much as five inches of rain resulting in some minor flash flooding. Other areas received only a trace to half an inch. The effect on burley is yet to be seen.


I think auctions are the best marketing strategy tobacco farmers have ever had. If there was more auction marketing opportunities, then auction prices would probably yield a little better. For growers in my area (burley producers), the auction market is all we really have. Very few can get contracts, and those who do have to haul it many miles. I have only been offered a contract once in my life, and it involved hauling the tobacco eight hours away to a receiving station. I can stand to lose several cents a pound to save a trip like that. Almost all of our auction opportunities are gone now too. A way of life in my area is gone. Just a few of us are holding on. We used to have a warehouse on every corner, now we have flea markets as our only reminder. By the way, I think the unregulated free market is always best, and if I can produce tobacco cheap enough to sell at auction prices, then that is my constitutional right, and if a warehouse owner can make enough money to handle tobacco sales, then let him run his business. Let everybody grow their own crops and sell them where they will, and let the law of supply and demand take its course. It won't be fair and equitable to all growers otherwise. For those contract growers who wish that us wildcat producers would stop, you can push us out of business, call your contracting company, and beg it to drop the price per pound they are paying you, and our prices at the auction will drop as well to follow suit, and we'll be forced to quit.
Rob Wurth, N.C.

  • August 2. Annual Tobacco Research Field Day. Southern Piedmont AREC, Blackstone, Va. Registration begins at 5 p.m., followed by dinner. Tour will begin at 6 p.m. Contact: Margaret Kenny at 434-292-5331 or makenny@
  • August 11. Tobacco Twilight Tour, Murray State University, Murray, Ky. Registration beginning at 5:30 p.m., followed by field tour and supper. Contact: Andy Bailey at or  270-365-7541 Extn. 240
  • August 8-9. Burley Tobacco Research Tour in Central Ky. August 8: Begins at the Plant and Soil Sciences Field Lab., 3250 Ironworks Pike, Lexington Ky., at 1 p.m. Dinner at 5:30. August 9: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. tour of test plots on grower farms in surrounding counties. Ends Contact: Bob Pearce at 859-257-5110.