Why a bin-busting flue-cured crop may be on the way
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.