|Workers gather leaf from a flue-cured field near Winston-Salem, N.C.|
A lot of flue-cured is deteriorating on the stalk in Eastern North Carolina, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist, who continues to think that the barn-busting crop predicted six weeks ago is unlikely to occur. "Some tobacco-growing areas in the East have gotten as much rain as last year at this time," he says. "It was hot one week this month and rainy the next, and now the crop is going back fast." Some growers are finishing harvest now. "Farmers are really putting the accelerator down, with emphasis on quality. I am seeing some pale color. I wouldn't expect much green leaf that won't cure, at least not in the East."
In the N.C. Piedmont, the situation is the exact opposite, says Vann. "There was a prolonged dry period and late-season uptake fertilizer. Now, growers are going to hard pressed to complete harvest before first frost." Tim Yarbrough, a farmer in Prospect Hill, N.C. (near Roxboro), says, "It will be very hard to get the last of this crop harvested and cured. It is not just the shortage of barns. Farmers will have a hard time getting into the field with enough machinery and labor to get the job done. There are just so many hours in the day."
In Virginia, Halifax County Extension agent Chris Brown says the flue-cured there is definitely late. "It is hard to put a finger on how much has been harvested, but it seems likely at this point that frost will nip some of what is left. If we have an early frost, we could have a big problem. Some farmers are not half way up the stalk yet." So far, the quality appears decent. Some stalk-cut tobacco is grown in Halifax County, he says, and most had been cut by mid-September. "Both the burley (45 acres) and dark fire cured (15 acres) look good," he says. "In fact, the dark looks real good."
In Kentucky, harvest was perhaps 60 percent done by the middle of this week. "We are way behind," says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "We have had a problem with rain--it stays so wet that you can't do anything. There has been some hollow stalk rot and some leaf drop, and some farmers may not have all their tobacco cut before first frost." Labor has been an issue for some growers, he says. On the bright side, Pearce is optimistic about the quality.
In western N.C., dry weather has contributed to a relatively late burley crop. A shortage of labor has further delayed harvest. One farmer near Asheville had a field that was ready to cut before his labor crew arrived. So he used a tractor-mounted sickle mower to cut down the stalks two rows at a time. It took some experimentation to find the right speed, but the farmer says the results were good and cutting one acre took less than an hour. "There was some damage, but there would have been more if I'd let it go any longer." Still, he hopes the rest of his fields will hold till his crew arrives so he can cut conventionally.
How to save labor in burley harvest: At the Upper Piedmont Research Station at Reidsville, N.C., researchers use a Weedeater with a blade to cut the stalk as they walk backward down the row. "You can cut burley much faster with the Weedeater than with a tobacco knife, and you don't have to bend over to do it," says Joe French, superintendent at the station. "Breakage might be a concern, since the stalk falls straight down. But we haven't had enough breakage yet for it to be a problem." Besides the Weedeater, the station staff has increased its labor savings by notching the stalk and hanging it from wire rather than spearing it on sticks. For more information about this approach, you can call the station at 336 349 8347.
USDA September estimate of production
With percentage comparison to 2013
Flue-cured: US--537.8 million lbs, up 18%. Individual states: NC--416.3 million lbs, up 15%; Virginia--55 million lbs, up 16%; Georgia--35 million lbs, up 56%; SC--31.5 million lbs, up 28%. Burley: US--211.7 million lbs, up 10%. Individual states:Kentucky--160.6 million lbs, up 8%; Tennessee--25.2 million lbs, up 24%; Pennsylvania--12.7 million lbs, up 4%; Virginia--5.3 million lbs, up 17%; Ohio--4.4 million lbs, down 4%; NC--3.4 million lbs, up 30%. Other types: Fire-cured: 50.5 million lbs, no change. Dark fire-cured: 14.9 million lbs, up 6%. Cigar types: 9.5 million lbs, up 34%. Southern Maryland: 4.6 million lbs, up 2%
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