Tuesday, May 20, 2014


A transplanting crew sets out flue-cured plants near Kenly, N.C., on May 9.

FLUE-CURED: In North Carolina, at least 75 percent of the flue-cured has been transplanted. "Or maybe a touch more," says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "The vast majority of the east is done, maybe close to 100 percent except for farmers who are still scrambling for plants. The growers in the Piedmont are wide open now and should wrap up by next week if the weather holds up."  In South Carolina, area Extension agronomy agent William Hardee in Conway says he thinks that substantially all the tobacco in his area has been transplanted. Tobacco in the field in Georgetown County had begun to "flatten out" in almost every field making it suitable for cultivation, says Georgetown County Extension agent Kyle Daniel. In Georgia, transplanting was completed last week, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist. The plant supply was tight. "We used the very last plant available in the state. I'm estimating 15,000 acres, but of course we have no way of actually knowing how many acres are planted." About the time the last plants were set, much of the tobacco area got two to 5.5 inches of rain from last week's system. In  Florida, the crop is completely set, and some farmers are planning sucker control. 

BURLEY: In Kentucky, perhaps 25 percent of the burley crop has been set, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "We are farther along in the southern part of the state, but we are making prog
ress everywhere,” he says. The plant supply seems to have straightened out, probably because some expected contracts didn't come through and others came in late, he says. In southwestern Virginia, very little of the burley crop has been transplanted so far, according to Extension sources. A shortage of plants is expected. In west North Carolinatransplanting was a little farther along, with 39 percent of the burley crop estimated set by May 18. But that was still well behind the five-year average of 65 percent. In Tennessee,  farmers in the state's leading burley county are ahead of schedule on transplanting, says Macon County Extn. Director Steve Walker. "The tobacco that is out now looks scary good."

What if you can't get sulfate of potash? "It looks like some supply stores may not have it when you need it," says Pearce of Kentucky. "You should have a plan on how to deal with that." One possible alternative: "If your supplier can get sulfate of potash to you within a month of transplanting, you could still scatter it over the top and get good results." But be sure the tobacco is completely dry when you do it. If it's wet, there could be burning.

Tennessee farmers are having the same problems getting sulfate of potash as everyone else. "I hope we don't have to use much muriate," says Walker. "It interferes with curing." If you know a year beforehand that you will have to apply muriate to tobacco, put it out in the fall, he suggests. "The rain and snow will leach it out over the winter." But it's best not to use muriate at all on tobacco.

A "wait and see" approach could make nitrogen application more efficient, says Vann of N.C. You might want to apply 75 to 80 percent of your total nitrogen in two applications and then later apply the remaining 20 to 25 percent in the third. "A third application provides a lot of flexibility later in the season for producers using liquid nitrogen and drop nozzles," he says. "This provides the benefit of not applying too much nitrogen in a dry year, while still being able to make a leaching adjustment in a wet year."

Flexibility could come in very handy, considering the irregularity of weather patterns over the last few growing seasons--extremely dry in 2010 and 2011 and extremely wet in 2013 and early 2014. "We are just as likely--maybe more likely--to have a dry summer as a wet one," Vann said. "You don't want excess nitrogen to turn your tobacco green late in the season."

In other news:
ThompsonA new c.e.o. for the flue co-op--The U.S. Tobacco Cooperative (USTC) has appointed Stuart Thompson, its chief financial officer, to the apparently new position of chief executive officer. Thompson, 49, has 18 years of experience in senior management roles in several industries, but has only been involved in tobacco since he joined USTC in 2011. A statement from USTC's board chairman -- grower Jimmy Hill of Kinston -- noted Thompson's strong management and financial back ground but gave no indication of what his duties would include or what change if any there would be in the duties of USTC president J.T. "Tommy" Bunn. 

Tobacco was the target earlier this month when a human rights organization issued a report alleging significant use of child labor on leaf farms. Its clear goal was to try to embarrass cigarette manufacturers and to create some method of third-party monitoring to prevent their recurrence. "Children in tobacco fields can't avoid being exposed to dangerous nicotine, without smoking a single cigarette," said Margaret Wurth, children's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW) and co-author of the report. "It's no surprise the children exposed to poisons in the tobacco fields are getting sick." Graham Boyd, executive vice president of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina (TGANC), responded that much of the report is a distortion. He noted that the report was based on 141 interviews with children ages seven to 17 who were reportedly working on tobacco farms in N.C., Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The number was quite small in comparison to all tobacco workers. "If all 141 incidents in the HRW report had occurred in N.C. alone, that would be a ratio of .004 percent of the workers in N.C.," he said. "Could the statement be made that 99.006 percent are doing it correctly?" To see the short version that accompanied the report, along with the full text of Boyd's response, see elsewhere in this blog.

Dates to remember: 
  • May 23, 10 a.m. GAP Certification Meeting. Hancock Health Department, 178 Willow St., Sneedville, Tn.  Contact: 423-733-2526.
  • July 14-16. N.C. Tobacco Tour. Details to follow.
  • July 30. Virginia Tobacco Field Day. Southern Piedmont AREC, Blackstone, Va.

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