It was nothing but smiles for flue-cured grower Johnny McLawhorn on August 9 as his workers harvested the second level of leaf on his farm near the town of Hookerton in eastern N.C.
After the dismal production of 2011, both flue-cured and burley appear headed toward much better production, according to the USDA August Crop Report, issued this morning. North Carolina flue-cured and Tennessee burley--and to a lesser extent both types in Virginia--lead the way in percentage increase.
FLUE-CURED--The prospects for the U.S. flue-cured continue to improve. The USDA August Crop Report projected production of the type will reach at least 446 million pounds. That is 29 percent above last year and 14 million pounds more than was projected a month ago. Most of the increase is projected in North Carolina where production is up nearly 40 percent at 346.5 million pounds. Among the other flue-cured states: South Carolina is up two percent at 27 million pounds, as is Virginia, up 11 percent at 48.3 million pounds. But Georgia is down almost 10 percent at 24.1 million pounds. Florida doesn’t participate in the survey, but a substantial drop in production can be expected because of Tropical Storm Debbie.
BURLEY production is projected to increase over last year too, although not nearly as much. It is expected to total 186 million pounds, up eight percent from last year. Among the individual states: the big news comes from Tennessee, where production is expected to be up 26 percent at 28.5 million pounds. Kentucky is projected to be up five percent at 134.9 million pounds. Virginia is up a healthy 20 percent at 4.5 million pounds and Pennsylvania is up two percent, at 11.2 million pounds. North Carolina is down 23 percent at 2.7 million pounds while Ohio production remains about the same at 3.6 million pounds.
OTHER TYPES: Fire-cured is down eight percent at 47.2 million pounds. Dark air-cured is down 19 percent at 13 million pounds. Cigar types are up 12 percent at 8.6 million pounds while for Southern Maryland there is no change at 6.6 million pounds.
How credible are the USDA survey results? There was some skepticism about the N.C. flue-cured projection, although certainly everyone expects a major recovery from the hurricane-damaged 2011 crop. But with all the uncertainty, the 346.5 million pound figure may be on the high side, says an Extension tobacco agent in a major eastern N.C. county. “But we may come close to it or even possibly achieve it.”
And what about the big increase in Tennessee? The additional thousand acres that USDA says was planted in Tennessee seems very credible to Daniel Green, Chief Operating Officer of the Burley Stabilization Corporation of Springfield, Tn. “We strived to increase plantings among our contracting farmers and had some success,” he said. “The 300-pound-per-acre yield increase that USDA projects is certainly significant, but I think it might be just about right.”