Tuesday, November 5, 2013

THE STRESSED 2013 CROP CROSSES THE FINISH LINE

Some of the year's last tobacco: The NC State Fair sponsored a tobacco-tying contest on October 18 using this very ripe flue-cured leaf, which was harvested that morning in Oxford, N.C.

FLUE-CURED

NORTH CAROLINA: When all was said and done, it appeared that the statewide loss of production was in the 20 percent range. "I think 320 million pounds is a reasonable estimate," says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "It might be a little more." While the Coastal Plain and the Sand Hills suffered enormously from the rains, counties like Forsyth in the northwest Piedmont finished very strong in late September and October and offset some of the losses in the east. Part of the reason: The eastern crop was set out in cool and wet conditions, but the Piedmont crop, going out a little later, got off to a better start. Vann reported good quality leaf almost everywhere in the state. But most of it is very low in nicotine and high in sugars. For some farmers, harvest dragged out very late, Vann says substantially all of N.C.'s flue-cured was harvested by the third week of October. He doesn't think any was still on the stalk when the first killing frost of the year came on October 26.
  
SOUTH CAROLINA: The S.C. crop, rain-soaked like most of the flue-cured belt, had a low yield but good quality. Estimating plantings at 13,500 acres and yield at 2,000 pounds, Dewitt Gooden, S.C. Extension tobacco specialist, says production for the year would have been about 27 million pounds, about a million pounds more than in 2012. FYI: Gooden still doesn't understand where the USDA got its low 9,000-acre estimate of S.C. plantings. He is sure they are in the 13,000-acre range. Also, he says harvest was substantially complete by the end of September.

GEORGIA: This was probably the worst crop in the 24 years J. Michael Moore has been in Georgia, says the Extension tobacco specialist. "The appearance was good--there just was not enough of it," he says. "It was very light, low in nicotine and high in sugars. The yield was close to 1,600 pounds per acre, and we sold about 65 percent of what we wanted to." It was entirely due to rain. Some locations received 50 inches by the end of August, more than the yearly average, he says. Ironically, he noted, just two years ago, Georgians had their best crop of 24. Despite the poor production, there is a definite interest in expansion, thanks to the good price. "A good bit sold for $2.28 a pound, he says. With a yield of 1,560 pounds and harvested area of 13,000 acres, that would give total production of 20.28 million pounds. And with an average price of $2.10, total value would have been $42.5 million.

FLORIDA: Yields were excellent in the southernmost tobacco state, says Moore. "Florida did not get the continuous rainfall that many parts of Georgia got." Also, the soils in Florida can handle rainfall better than Georgia's. "Nitrogen does leach but the farmers are accustomed to it," he says. The average is in the range of 2,700 to 2,800 pounds per acre. With 1,200 acres, total production should be around 3.36 million pounds. "Guessing that the average price was about $2.10 per pound, the total value of the crop would have been around $7 million," says Moore.

VIRGINIA: The Old Dominion, along with Florida, may have enjoyed the best weather among the flue-cured states. A reliable observer said a yield of 2,300 pounds an acre seemed likely, and there were a number of 3,000-pound yields. Planted area may have been 22,000 acres, which would have been a little lower than earlier projections. That would put production at about 50,000 pounds...At one time, it was thought that traditional flue-cured counties might produce burley on a significant level. But that hasn't happened, at least not in the major flue-cured county of Pittsylvania in the Southside. Stephen Barts, Extension tobacco agent in Pittsylvania County, Va., says that burley hasn't proved as profitable as flue-cured. "The main problem is yields," he says. "Because of the heat here, 2,000-pound yields are hard to achieve." This season, the county had six burley growers compared to four Virginia dark fire-cured growers.

BURLEY

KENTUCKY: At Farmers Tobacco Warehouse in Danville, owner Jerry Rankin says the average price was $2.08:96 per pound on 290,000 pounds at the auction on Monday. He has 400,000 pounds on the floor for tomorrow. There is a lot of hope that the price will rise, since $2.08 is not much more than last year. "It is definitely one of our lighter crops," he says. "I expect the yields will average around a ton per acre." The quality was good, and Rankin says the moisture condition of the leaf delivered to his warehouse was at a level he doesn't normally expect till after Christmas. "Very little tobacco is coming in in high case," he says. "The companies shouldn't experience much shrink"...But there was plenty of shrink in the curing barns, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "We took a lot of water into the barns," he says. "There has been disappointment in the cured weight." He thinks burley production in Kentucky might come in at 145 million pounds.  

TENNESSEE: Plantings of 13,000 acres were down sig-nificantly from 2012, says Tennessee Extension research associate Joe Beeler. An average yield of 1,850 pounds per acre seemed likely, and this was good news considering all the rain. State production of about 24 million pounds appeared on the way. There had been a little blue mold just before topping in eastern counties like Greene and Washington, but the timing was such that it didn't cause much loss. The quality was good all around, and early sales were attracting a price of $2.04 to $2.07 a pound.One note of concern: Beginning in late October and continuing up until today, very dry weather in the east was making curing difficult.  

VIRGINIA: The burley crop in southwest Virginia is curing up very nicely, thanks to favorable weather, says Danny Peek, Va. District Extension director in Abingdon. "The demand for it will be good." But very little has been delivered to buyers yet, he adds. The growing season was tough, and the hope is that the yield will reach 1,800 pounds per acre, although it could be lower. With plantings of about 2,500 acres, the state could be looking at 4.5 million pounds, close to last season. 

DARK

KENTUCKY-TENNESSEE: Much of the dark-tobacco-producing area of central and western Kentucky and Tennessee suffered a series of hard freezes starting October 24 which brought an end to the growing season to in the dark area. Very little remained in the field at that time, said Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist for Kentucky and Tennessee. Only a small part of the fire-cured tobacco and none of the dark air-cured had been delivered. "So far, the early crop looks real good," he says. "The quality is a lot better than expected." But yields are low. "Farmers were hoping for 3,400-pound yields but so far it seems close to 2,400. It is not at all uncommon for some crops to be down a thousand pounds from last year." How much has been produced? The last USDA projection for dark fire-cured of 61 million pounds seems high to Bailey. "I am not sure we will even have 50 million pounds," he says. "My guess is that it will be about 48 million pounds." The USDA projection for dark air-cured of 14.65 million pounds seemed closer to the mark for Bailey. 
THE EDITOR'S ESTIMATE: My guess is probably no better than yours, but I am placing flue-cured production at 405 million pounds and burley at 195 million pounds. I admit that my burley estimate sounds low, but I think there could be more bad news about the leaf that is still curing.

OTHER NEWS

A bright-curing flue variety from GoldLeaf Seed: GL 395, a bright-curing flue-cured variety with middle to late maturity and a similar disease resistance package to K 346. "GL 395 will cure up much brighter than K 346," says Gordon Johnson, domestic sales manager of GoldLeaf. "And it is fairly easy to cure." There is some evidence that it will yield better than K 346, he adds.

And a new flue-cured variety developed at North Carolina State University--NC 925--will be marketed by the three major seed companies. It too has a disease package similar to K 346, its yields are comparable to K 326, and it cures well."

New position for an old friend: W.K. (Bill) Collins, who retired from N.C. Extension Service work after a long career as tobacco specialist, has been named special tobacco advisor by N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. "When we need to address a tobacco issue, we can rely on Dr. Collins' expertise," says Richard Reich, assistant commissioner of the department of agriculture. "He will help us continue to formulate tobacco policy and develop marketing opportunities as we need it." The department's efforts to appoint a full-time tobacco marketing specialist are continuing, Reich says. The position has been vacant since Scott Bissette left to become assistant commissioner of the N.C. Forest Service. 

A new book on burley from a scholarly stand point suggests the difficulties of producing the crop in the more hostile Twenty First Century environment. "Farmers now farm as they do as a direct result of adhering the new agriculture that developed early in the twentieth century, leading to increased dependence on monocrop farming. It is not as simple as telling farmers 'grow something else' that will replace tobacco (or other traditional farm products in other regions); certainly it is not as simple as telling tobacco farmers to grow vegetables for local people."--From Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century, by Ann K. Ferrell (University of Kentucky Press).

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