Tuesday, September 18, 2012


A Tobacco Farmer Newsletter Special Report
September 18, 2012  

Since the USDA issued its September crop report last week (see "Outlook for current crop keeps getting better," Tobacco Farmer Newsletter, September 13, 2012), there has been considerable comment that the volumes predicted for flue-cured may be too optimistic. One of the most thoughtful responses was prepared by Graham Boyd, executive vice president of the Tobacco Growers Association, and published in the most recent issue of the association newsletter. Excerpts follow:

Are flue-cured prospects really that good? By Graham Boyd
The recent USDA crop report surveys growers in August and compiles data to issue a crop forecast on September 1. USDA has the crop projection at 490.2 million pounds of flue-cured. (But) our organization calculates this crop will be considerably less. The consensus is that the crop yield is expected to approximately 2200 - 2300 pounds. Locations east of Wilson County certainly will be less than that target. Excessive rainfall has washed out the crop in terms of weight per acre. However, the quality is excellent! Much of the crop is very ripe and has oil. It simply takes more acres to fill a barn.

Another factor reducing the weight was storm damage, especially the straight line wind event that struck in early July. If that single event blew off an average of 2-3 leaves per stalk then that accounted for 10-15 percent of the potential harvest in a matter of minutes on a high volume of acres in 15 counties east of Edgecombe. In addition there was a significant amount of "blown over" tobacco that required re-standing. In late August we began to realize the impact of storm damaged stalks. The plant integrity has been compromised and the plant becomes increasingly more vulnerable to disease pressure.

The challenge today is becoming how to save the crop. In many locations in the East, the crop is completely out of the field. By comparison, growers in the Old Belt report having not harvested all of the first pulling yet and are becoming nervous about early frost.

Here's how we add it up. If N.C. planted 162,000 acres of flue-cured, and it averages 2,200 pounds we will only market 356.4 million of flue-cured. If USDA figures prove correct in the neighboring states--VA=48 million, S.C.=27 million and GA=25 million--then the crop total will be 465.4 million pounds.

One positive for U.S. growers is the high quality of this crop. Markets seem to reflect it: During the first week of September. nearly every major contract company implemented price changes. The prevailing average value for a quality B1 grade of tobacco now ranges between $2.15 and $2.20. The pace of deliveries to the marketplace had been slower than usual for the first month of tobacco receiving. Much of that was attributed to the late season excessive rains that charged the plants with new nutrient uptake and "re-greened" the crop causing a slight lag in harvesting. Other factors were involved, including widespread wind events and accompanying high volume of hailstorms that damaged or even removed some of the scheduled harvest for many growers in the East. In the Old Belt, the crop was delayed in many areas waiting on adequate rainfall.

The majority of growers report being very satisfied with how the crop is grading and selling. In general the crop is regarded by growers as a good quality crop for marketing. However, nearly every grower reports his crop is now anticipated to check up light in total pounds per acre.--Graham Boyd 

Other opinions:
To get additional perspective, I asked Extension agronomists in flue-cured states their take on the September crop report. Loren R. Fisherof North Carolina says, "I have asked around, and most people think that the USDA number is a little high based on current and expected harvest conditions of the crop. I think a 450 to 460 number is more realistic based on what I have heard, but it is very, very difficult to estimate the crop size now." David Reed of Virginia says, "The figure for Virginia is probably accurate. We still have quite a bit of the crop still in the field, but it is holding reasonably well at this time. We are probably at 40 percent or slightly higher on the harvest." The USDA acreage figures are on the low side, he says, probably by 1,500 acres...Georgia yield will likely be down from the good 2011 yield, says J. Michael Moore of Georgia. Acreage is down too, meaning there will be a substantial reduction in total production in Georgia in 2012. "Georgia production is up 0.96 million pounds since last month thanks to a 100-pound expected increase in yield, putting production at 23.04million pounds," he says. But any estimate these days must of necessity be shaky. "Without the old Market Reports and the estimates of the knowledgeable folks in the supply chain we used to depend on for information, the numbers thrown out this time of year have little chance of being representative of actual production," Moore says.

Finally: How much burley will N.C. produce? The crop report projection for N.C. burley, as for N.C. flue-cured, raised eyebrows. It projected that at the beginning of September burley production in the state would be 3.515 million pounds, 30 percent more than it had projected at the beginning of August. I brought this to the attention of Stanley Holloway, N.C. area Extension burley agent, and he was a bit mystified too. "I don't have a good handle on what the crop is like in the non-traditional N.C. areas (in the flue-cured belt), but in the traditional area of western N.C., we would not expect to have improved 30 percent in such a short time." But he did say the weather and other conditions in western N.C. have been favorable and a good yield is expected. "In Yancey County, one farmer tells me that this looks like his best-ever crop," says Holloway. "He says he has never seen tobacco as heavy bodied on the hills. I think we will have a number of farm yields close to 3,000 pounds per acre, and maybe some as high as 3,500 pounds." 
Editor's Note: You can review the original TFN coverage of the September USDA crop report, by going on the web to our blog at modtob.blog.spot. If you are not receiving Tobacco Farmer Newsletter and would like to, email me at chrisbickers@gmail.com. Write "Subscribe" and your tobacco type, town and state. For more information, call me at 919-789-4631 or email me at the above address. Watch for our next issue in early October--Chris Bickers, Editor.

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