Field work on a flue-cured farm near Wilson, N.C., on August 6.
The troubling question of how large the U.S. flue-cured and burley crops will turn out to be remains unanswered. The pot was stirred a little more on Tuesday when USDA issued its first all-type projection of the year. Its estimate for flue-cured was slightly lower than in July--531 million pounds instead of 536--but still 17 percent over last year.
But there is less skepticism about USDA's flue-cured projection. One dealer told TFN that the crop could exceed USDA's expectations. "It is a barn buster. It could well reach 550 million pounds. Unless there is a disaster, I don't see how the market is going to absorb it all. I would expect the price for the excess to get down perhaps to 2010 levels." One factor that could affect production: There may not be enough barn space to cure a crop in the half billion pound range.
Flue-cured contracting may have amounted to 460 million pounds, the dealer says. "If we produced just 490 million pounds, every pound would be sold," he says. "But 50 or 75 million more than that? I don't know."
For burley, the USDA estimate is 201 million pounds, up four percent from last year. That seems questionable in light of reports from burley country of intense drought. Daniel Green, c.e.o. of Burley Stabilization Corporation in Springfield, Tn., told TFN, "It has been really dry over the last seven or eight weeks. Rainfall has been well below normal,
although we have gotten some rain in the last few days. The tobacco is yellowing up and losing leaves from the bottom of the stalk." The situation has had an impact on the yield. "Our original estimate for the crop was 195 million pounds. Now, we might be looking at 185 million. If this dry weather continues, we are going to have a lot of yellow leaf. The color will be variegated." But recent rain could turn things around. "It was enough to allow manygrowers to let the early tobacco stay in the field to mature and 'body up' a bit more before they cut," says Green. "But much of the later crop was too weather stressed to improve much."
State by state USDA projections:Flue-cured (projected production and change from last season): NC--416.3 million pounds, up 15 percent; GA-- 32.2 million pounds, up 43 percent; SC--31.5 million pounds, up 27 percent; VA--50.6 million pounds, up seven percent. Burley: KY--153.3 million pounds, up three percent; TN--22.4 million pounds, up nine percent; PA--12.75 million pounds, no change; VA--4.875 million pounds, up slightly; OH--4.4 million pounds, down slightly; NC--3.06 million pounds, up 15 percent.
What USDA projects for smaller types: Fire-cured--48.89 million pounds, down slightly. Dark air-cured--14.47 million pounds, up five percent. Cigar types--9.5 million pounds, up 21 percent. Southern Mary-land--4.6 million pounds, down slightly.
In Tennessee's largest burley county, the tobacco burley had been suffering from heat and drought, but there was a little relief earlier this week. Steve Walker, Macon County Extension director, says, "We got a good rain Monday and early Tuesday, about three inches, and that will help. But some later-set tobacco is already beyond help. Some of it is blooming at waist height." Harvest has started, he added. Yield has definitely been reduced.
A lot better dark crop than few days ago: Much of the Black Patch got rain from last Thursday till Monday, says Andy Bailey, Kentucky-Tennessee Extension dark tobacco specialist stationed in Princeton, Ky. "We would have had to start watering this week," he says. "Now harvesting can get going." He says less than five percent of the crop has been cut.
One of the best-looking flue-cured crops in a long time in Halifax County, Va., says Chris Brown, the county's tobacco Extension agent. "The rainfall pattern has been almost perfect except for one stretch when it fell too heavy and we got some compaction. But we have had steady rainfall since." He added that it is going to be late maturing. One fourth to one third of the ground leaves have been pulled. He thinks the county average will be around 2,800 pounds, and maybe 3,000 pounds.
The rainfall had been ideal for a good crop in Pitt County, N.C., up until a few weeks ago, says Mitch Smith, county Extension director. "But since then, we have had excessive rainfall that has really taken a toll on the crop. Our tobacco is taking on a banana yellow color. Usually we hope for a 2,400 pound county average, but it is looking more like 2,000 pounds." One full harvest has been made, and farmers are having problems curing the lowerstalk leaf, he says. "We try to remove as much water as we can without setting green on the lowerstalk." Pitt County is in Eastern N.C.
A better than average flue-cured crop is coming off in in Georgia and Florida, says J. Michael Moore, Extension specialist for the two states. "Harvest is well under way, and the best tobacco is still in the field. We will be harvesting till well into October." Most lowerstalk tobacco has been harvested, and in Florida, some farmers are already stripping.
Weeds and grasses seemed worse than ever in Georgia. "The wet spring in Georgia resulted in an exceptionally heavy germination of weed seeds and a heavy population of weeds to plague the 2014 tobacco crop," Moore says. A timely application of Poast herbicide can control escaped grass prior to the final cultivation. An application of Aim following the first harvest can assist in controlling newly emerging broadleaf weed seedlings. This application can be made with spray tips attached behind the harvester defoliators and directed toward the top of the bed or using spray hoods suspended from a high clearance sprayer. "Weeds and grass that escape control using herbicides and cultivation require the use of a hoe or must be pulled when they are small," Moore says.
How to sell flue-cured that isn't covered by a contract: Three auction warehouses have informed TFN that they will begin flue-cured auctions in the next two weeks. A fourth will begin in September. Details follow. (Watch these pages for burley auction opening dates as soon as they are available.)
August 20--Big M Tobacco Warehouse, 1723 Goldsboro St. SW, Wilson, N.C. Format: Sealed bid (Live auctions will be conducted later in the season). Contact: Mann Mullen at 919 496 9033.
August 21--Carolinas Tobacco Auctions, 662 So. Ron McNair Blvd., Lake City, S.C. Format: Silent. Live auctions will be conducted later).Contact: Jimmy Lynch at 843 687 5753.
August 26--Old Belt Tobacco Sales warehouse, 1395 Old Belt Way, Rural Hall, N.C. Format: Live. Contact: Dennis White at 336 416 6262.
September (Date to be announced)--Piedmont Warehouse, 301 Trade St., Danville, Va. Format: Silent. Contact: T.Y. Mason at 434 203 1404.
DATES TO REMEMBER
August 25, 9 a.m. Cross Creek Seed Field Day, Tull Hill Farm, 2264 Hugo Rd., Kinston, N.C.
Welcome to the August I issue of Tobacco Farmer Newsletter. If you haven't signed on to receive it regularly or need to change an address, please click on "Join our mailing list" and follow the prompts. Want to talk? call me at 919 789 4631 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks--Chris Bickers
Could a bitter pill await flue-cured growers? Excess production could lead to a sharply lower price. Above: Mechanical harvest near Salemburg, N.C.
IS THE FLUE-CURED CROP
TOO MUCH FOR DEMAND?
It is just speculation at this point but some reliable sources tell me that the USDA projection of a 536 million pound flue-cured crop--as opposed to 454 million in 2013--may not be unrealistic at all: The crop may just be that good. One source told me that unless there is a yield-reducing storm, we might be looking at a substantial over-production of bright leaf, perhaps even more than USDA projected. "The price could get pretty low," he says. "The companies seem to have gotten as much as they needed last season, and there is just nowhere for a large uncommitted production to go."
But one factor could help: As of August 1, the crop appears to be of very good quality, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "The quality is there," he says of the North Carolina crop. "It is a little more of an American style this season than last, when we saw more lemon style tobacco, which is a bit higher in sugar. This crop appears more orange." He says harvest has been going on in the Border Belt for about a month and is just starting in the Old Belt.
Perhaps as many as a quarter of the growers in the Winston-Salem, N.C., area had started harvesting by August 1, says Dennis White, auction manager of the Old Belt Tobacco Sales warehouse in nearby Rural Hall. "Most of the rest will start next week." He thinks the Piedmont crop could potentially be the biggest since the buyout. "A lot of our tobacco got all the rain it's needed," he says. "The late crop had some moisture problems, but the heavy rains we are having now should help fill out the top." Editor's Note: White expects to begin auction sales on August 26. For more information, call 336 416 6262. In my next issue, I will publish opening dates and contact information for as many auctions as have set them.
Harvest is in full swing in South Carolina as the crop is beginning to ripen up the stalk, said Georgetown County Extension agent Kyle Daniel in a USDA survey. "Farmers are cropping everyday to keep pace with the crop as it matures by stalk position."
It is a different story in burley country: The crop has been suffering from extended dry weather. In east Tennessee, it has really interfered with plant growth on some farms. "Our tobacco bloomed at waist high instead of
at shoulder high, and now it is a foot shorter than what we expect," says L.D. Simmons of Johnson City. This was caused by all the heat. "To tell the truth, I thought it
was going to die early on, but it survived. But the tobacco couldn't grow without any rain"...Parts of Tennessee had no rain at all in late May or in early June. "If you had to put your tobacco out in the midst of the heat, there were problems," says Joe Beeler, research associate at the University of Tennessee. "We saw some tobacco bloom early since it was under so much stress. And there were some serious problems with activation of Spartan and Command." But he has seen this more in northeast Tennessee than in north central Tennessee. "We have some really dry areas in Greene and Hawkins counties. But the tobacco in much of the state is doing okay." Beeler thinks burley acreage is similar to 2013....The USDA reported that through July 28, 54 percent of the burley crop in Kentucky had reached the bloom stage, compared to the five-year average of 44 percent.
A new tobacco specialist in Tennessee: Eric Walker has been appointed the Volunteer State's new Extension tobacco specialist. Like his predecessor Paul Denton, who retired at the end of May 2013, Walker will spend part of his time working with Kentucky growers. He will be assisted by Joe Beeler, a research associate in plant science in Knoxville who has served for the last year and a half as the interim tobacco specialist. A native of Robertson County, Walker grew up on a fire-cured farm. He earned degrees from Austin Peay State University, the University of Tennessee and the University of Arkansas, and most recently taught plant science at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
Heading for the Highlands: In a break with tradition, Walker will not be stationed in Knoxville. Instead, his office will be at the Highland Rim Experiment Station in Springfield, which is much closer to the production center of Tennessee tobacco.
Despite a new executive, the U.S. Tobacco Cooperative is still short-handed. Itrecently promotedchief USTIC financial officer Stuart Thompson to the new post of chief executive officer, but Tommy Bunn, USTC president, said the coop-erative is still short handed. "We are looking for a new chief financial officer right now. We plan to have one in place in the next few weeks."
Is lemon leaf losing its appeal in China? "The demand [for U.S. leaf] from China has moved to leaf of more of a bright orange color as opposed to the lemon color that they were interested in when they first began buying here," says Bunn ... Pay out for producers: USTC paid its 2013 crop growers 21 cents a pound in patronage dividends in late July. This was the fourth consecutive year the cooperative has paid dividend. Tommy Bunn, USTC president, gave credit to the farmers. "Part of the reason for the dividends is the good job farmers have done in producing the quality tobacco that buyers want," he said. "They have been flexible in res-ponding to changes in market demand." A total of 889 growers shared in the $5.1 million payout.
DATES TO REMEMBER
August 4-5, Kentucky Tobacco Industry Tour. Contact: Bob Pearce, 859 257-5110.
August 7, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tobacco Twilight Tour, Murray State University West Farm, Murray, Ky. Contact: Andy Bailey, tobacco specialist, at 270-365-7541 ext. 240.