Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The rundown from Irene

Hurricane Irene damage in North Carolina fell mostly from Wilson east to the coast, says Sandy Stewart, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "The farther east you went the worse the effect." When plants are beaten around like they were, they produce ethylene, the chemical involved in ripening. Eventually, the leaf begins to deteriorate and the condition and quality is much in question. The damage will be varied across the state. Some counties, particularly in the Sand Hills and Piedmont, will not have any damage at all, while some in the east will lose 80% to 90% of their crop. But he thinks it will be several weeks before a reliable number can be derived for damage statewide. "But I was encouraged to talk to a grower in Sampson County on September 8 who says he was pleased with the quality of the leaf he had harvested since the hurricane," he says. "He had been able to harvest it soon after the event, and that makes a big difference." Tobacco harvested more than 10 days after the hurricane will probably not fare so well. In Virginia,farmers continued harvest as they tried to salvage their crop, according to the weekly state crop report. Tobacco was blown down in some areas, but those producers seem to think it will be okay, the report says. In Nottoway County, Extension agent Jimmy Gantt says 

Irene blew approximately 60% of the tobacco crop into a moderate to heavy lean. "Wind damage to the leaves was only 5% to 10%," says Gantt. "The main problem will be the inability to use mechanical harvesters in a large portion of the flue crop."

Georgia and Florida didn't get any wind or rain from Irene, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco agronomist. "We could have used a little of that rain to revive things. There is a lot of green still in the leaf." But there are some very good yields in Georgia, despite the extreme heat in July and August. Some of the tobacco is thin because of the drought, and the scorching heat has lead to some burning on leaf edges. The yield will probably be better than last year, maybe 2,400 pounds per acre, he says. "The buyers are saying there is some good tobacco out there. This looks like a good year for us." Florida has a good crop too. Much of it is irrigated, so drought was not a big consideration.Moore expected that harvest would be finished the week starting September 11. The Georgia harvest probably will take at least another week.

Fire-cured tobacco in Kentucky and Tennessee could be the best since 2006. "We have been lucky to receive timely rains," says Andy Bailey, Kentucky-Tennessee Extension dark tobacco specialist. "The yield will probably be a little higher than normal, maybe 3,600 pounds per acre compared to the average of about 3,400 pounds per acre." About half the dark tobacco-both fire-cured and air-cured--has been harvested, Bailey says.

Burley in Kentucky is extremely variable, says Bob PearceKentucky Extension tobacco specialist. In central Kentucky, there was good rain, but not far west of Lexington there were significant problems of dry weather. This week, Kentucky received some rain from remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. In some areas it was as much as four inches. Since then, it has been overcast and misty, stalling harvest to some extent. Again the conditions were drier in the western part of the state. "The moisture and humidity had a positive effect on curing quality," says Pearce. "We are not currently seeing a lot of problems with quick curing."

The best way to try to avoid unfavorable curing conditions for burley is by harvest timing. In general, says Paul Denton, Kentucky-Tennessee Extension tobacco specialist, the best curing conditions occur early in the growing season, when the temperatures are still warm and relative humidity is still high. "Harvest as much tobacco as possible before late September so that the yellowing and browning phases are completed before the middle of October. The cooler and drier conditions that typically occur in late October and November are less favorable for good curing." The current issue of the newsletter for the Center for Tobacco Grower Research includes an article by Denton on how to enhance burley quality in the curing process. To read it, go to www.tobaccogrowerresearch.com. And you will be able to learn more from Denton when the Burley Stabilization Corporation holds its annual meeting September 26 at its new office on 835 Bill Jones Industrial Dr., Springfield, Tn. Speakers will include Denton, Ky. Extension ag economist Will Snell and FDA Advisory committee member Arnold Hamm. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. and end with a free lunch. Call (615) 212-0508 for more information.

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