North Carolina--It appears that Hurricane Irene reduced production in North Carolina by 150 million pounds, most of it in the Eastern Belt, says Sandy Stewart, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "Some was destroyed in the field, but the big problem was that plants produced so much ethylene in response to being whipped by the wind that the ethylene caused the leaf to ripen and deteriorate quickly in the field. There was a short window to get the rest of the crop harvested, and much of it was not harvested." Most of the damage took place east of Interstate 95. There was relatively little damage from Irene in the Piedmont. But the crop there was very late maturing and to some degree ran out of degree days. "Some wasn't harvested until after the first frost, and resulting in some losses from a crop that had a lot of promise at one time," Stewart says. The most recent NASS projection for N.C. flue-cured--based on a survey conducted October 1--was 285.6 million pounds.
Virginia--The highest state average among the four leading flue-cured states may have been harvested in the Old Dominion. Extension and state specialists and NASS all project the yield at 2,400 pounds per acre or close to it. That would put volume at NASS' figure of 46.8 million pounds, up from nearly 40 million pounds the year before. Plantings were up nearly 20%. Virginians suffered little from Irene since it didn't extend that far inland, but as in N.C., part of the crop stayed in the field very late. About 300 acres were lost to frost.
South Carolina--Most growers are glad 2011 is over, says Dewitt Gooden, S.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "We had a dry weather crop except for a few areas that got spotty rain," he says. "Those areas had the best production. In the rest of the state, yields were low, and we had trouble curing. Selling was difficult, too, because the quality characteristics sometimes fell short of what buyers were looking for." NASS projects S.C. production at 23.2 million pounds based on 10% fewer acres than 2010 and a yield of 1,600 pounds, down from 2,250 pounds the previous year. But Gooden has doubts about NASS's production number. "That would be dismal for us," he says. "I don't see how we could have produced such a small crop."
Georgia--The actual average yield across the state will never be known, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco agronomist. "That's because so much tobacco moved into the trade in North Carolina, first when USGD didn't open and then even more after Irene created more demand for tobacco in North Carolina." Plantings were 11, 500 acres, according to NASS, with a yield of 2,350 pounds per acre and production of 27 million pounds. But Moore thinks 2,550 pounds per acre might be a better estimate of yield. With plantings of 11,500 acres, production would be just short of 3 million pounds.
Florida--Moore estimates plantings at about 850 acres and yields at 2,700 pounds per acre, indicating statewide production of almost 2.3 million pounds. Florida isn't included in the NASS survey.
BURLEY & DARK
Kentucky--Harvest of the burley crop was complete in early November, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "But we are nowhere near having it all stripped." Curing conditions so far have been good for most of this crop. But much was harvested late in the season and is being cured in cooler conditions than in a normal year. There is more of a tendency toward more green tobacco when burley is cured in cooler weather. The early crop appears to have good quality, maybe the best in three or four years, he says, and the middle crop appears to be acceptable to good. "But we have a large later crop, with 20% to 25% harvested after October 1, which is more than normal." There are quality concerns about the later crop. "We had to harvest it in cool weather, so the color could be questionable. There has been some improvement in color in the barn in recent weeks, but it will not likely be as good in quality as the early crop. If we can get most of the green out of it, I think it will be a useable crop." As to production, Pearce thinks the NASS October estimate could be close to the mark. "Our average yields probably are around 2,000 pounds an acre and 128 million pounds is reasonable," he says. "That would be down from last year by about 5% to 10%."
Tennessee--Burley plantings were estimated by NASS in October at 14,000 harvested acres, says Paul Denton, Ten-nessee Extension tobacco specialist. The average yield was pegged at 1,700 pounds per acre with total production of 23.8 million pounds. "The acreage estimate is down by 2,000 acres from the mid-summer estimate, indicating considerable abandonment," he says. "But that seems a little high to me, so I am guessing we will harvest closer to 15,000 acres." On the other hand, the 1,700-pound-per-acre yield estimate may be optimistic, given the severity of the drought in the Macon-Smith-Trousdale County area of middle Tennessee, he says. "At 15,000 acres and a 1,600-pound yield, production comes in at about 24 million pounds." The bright spot for burley is that quality looks good everywhere Denton has been, he says.
Virginia--NASS' burley plantings estimate seems low to Danny Peek, Virginia Extension tobacco specialist. "Our burley acreage is larger than the reported acreage, because many small growers no longer report any acreage at all," says Peek. "I feel confident that there are approximately 2,400 acres of burley in Virginia now. I am going to say the yield is approximately 2,200 to 2,300 pounds per acre."
North Carolina--Burley production was projected at 3.5 million by NASS, down about 500,000 pounds from 2010. That was on plantings of 2,300 acres and with a yield of 1,500 pounds per acre, down about 15% from the year before.
Pennsylvania--Volume of the three air-cured types that make up most of this state's production appears to be down 15% to 20% from the original contract, says Pam Haver of Trileaf Tobacco Co., New Holland, Pa. Two storms that passed over the tobacco area were the major causes. Hurricane Irene led to flooding on August 27, but much worse damage resulted from Tropical Storm Lee on September 9. Much of the crop that remained in the field at that time was "shocked" or on the ground when Lee blew through and it remained wet for a long time and didn't cure well. USDA reported that growers faced extremely wet weather during harvest, and many had concerns about pole burn during curing. "It is a very uneven crop," she says. "Some of the tobacco harvested before the storms is very good quality." All three types grown in the state -- burley, Pennsylvania broadleaf and Southern Maryland -- suffered about the same level of loss. The NASS October projection estimated that yield prospects for Southern Maryland had declined about 7% since September but that the decline may actually be more. The projection for all types was 10.1 million pounds which appeared too optimistic to some industry observers.
Kentucky-Tennessee--The dark fire-cured tobacco yield was estimated by NASS at 3,400 pounds per acre in Kentucky and 3,000 pounds in Tennessee. "I would say this is reasonable but may be a bit low for Tennessee." says Denton.
Why N.C. flue-cured suffered so much from Irene--The Tull Hill Farm of Hugo, N.C., had a terrific crop in the field just before Irene. "We delayed harvest to get it fully matured," says James Hill, one of the principals of the operation. "That proved to be a mistake. Hurricane Irene came along and wiped us out. We were only able to harvest three to five days after the storm, then the quality fell off and there was no point in harvesting any more." On much of the crop he only got to pull the three bottom leaves." The older mature tobacco that didn't drown ripened in the next few days. The younger tobacco was just flattened. It was the worst loss the farm had ever experienced on tobacco. "We had never had a hurricane to strike when we had so much tobacco in the field," he says. "When we have a hurricane, it is usually when we are almost finished."
Virginia has a new tobacco specialist: Bill Scruggs will cover tobacco as part of his responsibilities in the Southside with the Virginia Department of Agriculture. You can reach him at (804) 363-9279 or firstname.lastname@example.org gov.
Dates to remember:
The N.C. Tobacco Day will be held December 1 at the Johnston County Extension Center in Smithfield, N.C., starting at 8 a.m. For more information, contact Mina Mila at 919-513-1291.