Prepping to clip plants. A worker on a flue-cured farm near Raeford, N.C., prepares a mower to clip greenhouse plants last spring in this file photo.
Exports of U.S. leaf are up, but not because of our traditional customers, says Blake Brown, N.C. Extension economist. "The European Union (traditionally the leading destination for U.S. exports) is trending down." But the demand in China is robust, and that is keeping exports strong, said Brown, who spoke at the recent meeting of Tobacco Associates (TA) in Wilson, N.C. Short global supplies of flavor style, good quality flue-cured should work in our favor.
There appears to be uncertainty among the buying companies about the potential size of the tobacco market this year, says Mack Grady of Cureco, Seven Springs, N.C. They have slowed their contracting considerably since the beginning of this year. "I think this has slowed down the emphasis on updating infrastructure on the farms that we saw earlier. We can still hope the companies will come back with some extra pounds once they are sure what is going to happen in the southern hemisphere." His company has a "plateful" of orders right now, says Grady, about like what it had in 2012 and 2013 at about this time. The company installs curing controls on all kinds of barns. "We are doing old barns, middle-aged barns and new barns," he says. "But we have been slowed by the wet weather this winter. Some of our customers who want to move barns can't because it has been too wet and cold to pour concrete."
But barns continue to move. Bob Pope, general manager of Long Tobacco Barn Company in Tarboro, N.C., says, "Many farmers expressed interested in new barns at the Southern Farm Show, and we sold quite a few. We have continued to sell barns since then and, though we have already taken a lot of orders for 2014 barns, we still have a few June barns left. We will continue building 2014 barns through September." Pope says barn haulers tell him they are very busy moving used barns that are bringing record high prices, which suggests tobacco farmers remain enthusiastic about their future prospects.
A substantial portion of the Kentucky and Ohio burley crop from 2013 may still lack a home. Contracting for 2014 is already well under way but it appears that there is still a lot of 2013 burley left on the farm, says Steve Pratt, GM of theBurley
Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association (BTGCA). "That's a problem because most tobacco company receiving stations closed the last week of February," he says. "Here at the cooperative, we are going to keep accepting deliveries till we close March 21, but we can't handle all the leaf that is out there." Part of the problem has been the cold weather, which has made it difficult to get the leaf in case. Some resourceful methods of marketing the remaining burley may be required, says Pratt. "I am sure the auctions will handle some of it." So far, the prices offered for 2014 burley seem similar to last year, says Pat Raines, a Seaman, Ohio, burley grower and BTGCA chairman, who also attended the TA meeting. "I think we (burley growers) may plant five percent more this year," he says.
For flue-cured, a small acreage increase seems likely,
says Tim Yarbrough, the flue-cured grower in Prospect Hill, N.C., who is the new president of the Tobacco Growers Association of N.C. If that is true and if farmers produce an average yield, we might see an average price about ten cents less this season compared to 2013, he says. "That would be livable if we can keep variable costs under control. I hope we are not looking at an oversupply situation. Soft demand and too much tobacco would be a 'perfect storm' leading to a much lower price." Yarbrough, who farms with his brother Kenneth in Caswell County in the Old Belt, says they may increase plantings by five percent. "We are not looking to expand a great deal," he says. "We don't have the land availability we would need."
Dark air-cured growers in Kentucky and Tennessee will apparently have the opportunity to contract additional pounds this season, although the increase may be modest. "Our yield in 2013 was low, and some companies reported falling 10 percent to 15 percent of their goal," says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. "I am hearing of growers getting 4,000 pound increases. Burley contracts appear to be similar to last year, and farmers are enthusiastic after the good price for the last crop. "There were some crops in this area that averaged $2.05 at all stalk positions." Plantings of all tobacco types may be favored by the drop in the price of grain. "Farmers may divert some acres into tobacco instead," he says.
Don't seed too soon in Kentucky. March 15 is soon enough to seed greenhouses most years, says Bailey, and that is especially true with the price of propane up. "I hope no one seeded before March 1. In Kentucky, there is no real good reason ever to seed tobacco in February."
How to economize on potassium: "Flue-cured growers don't need to apply as much as they historically have," says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "We average applying 120 to 130 pounds per acre across the state, while the recommendation is 90 pounds per acre." There is research that has suggested that you can reduce the application rate as low as 75 pounds per acre under certain soil conditions without affecting yield or quality, he says.
GAP RECERTIFICATION SCHEDULE
All times Eastern except as marked. For more information, please call 865-622-4606 or visit www.gapconnections.com.
March 7, 1 p.m. McLean County Extension Office, Calhoun, Ky. Contact: (270) 273-3690.
NORTH CAROLINA (Flue-cured)
March 19, 10 a.m. Surry Community College, 630 S. Main St., Dobson, N.C. Contact: 336-371-0189.
March 19, 6 p.m. (Introduction to Tobacco GAP at 5 p,m,). Mason County Extension Office. 800 U.S. 68, Maysville, Ky. Contact: Tad Campbell, (606) 564-6808 or email@example.com.
March 20, 6:30 p.m. CT. Barren County Tobacco Meeting, Barren County Extension Office, 1463 West Main St. Glasgow, Ky. Contact: Kristin Goodin, (270) 651-3818, firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 25, 6 p.m. South East Ky. Tobacco Meeting, Laurel County Extension Office, 200 County Extension Rd., London, Ky. Contact: Glenn Williams (606) 864-4167, email@example.com.
March 13, 7 p.m. Middle Tennessee Research & Education Center, 1000 Main Entrance Dr., Spring Hill, Tn. Contact: Joe Beeler,firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 17, 6 p.m., Pickett County Agricultural Learning Center, 130 Skyline Dr., Byrdstown, Tn. Contact: Bill Garrett, 931-864-3310.
March 26, 6 p.m. Clyde Austin 4-H Center, 214 4-H Lane, Greeneville, Tn. Contact: 423-798-1710.
March 27, 6 p.m. Grainger County Meeting, Ag Pavilion, 280 Bryan Rd., Rutledge, Tn. Contact: Anthony Carver, 865-828-3411 email@example.com.
March 10, 4 p.m. Ohio Valley Career and Technical Center, 175 Lloyd Rd., West Union, Ohio. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 10, 7:30 p.m. Ohio Valley Career and Technical Center, 175 Lloyd Rd., West Union, Ohio. Contact: email@example.com.
March 19, 1 p.m. Southern Hills Career Center on Hamer Road, Georgetown, Ohio. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.