Plants on the way to the field on a flue-cured farm near Nashville, N.C., in May 2014.
This is no year to grow tobacco without a contract, says Steve Pratt, general manager of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association (BTGCA) in Lexington, Ky. "That would be like betting your money on the horses instead of on your growing ability, and it will not be wise to take a chance like that in a market like this. I absolutely do not recommend it."
Closed by the cold: BTGCA closed its receiving station last week because of the weather. "We hope to reopen this week," Pratt says. "We were planning on having February 26 as our last delivery date."
But the auctions will probably remain open in Kentucky as long as they have buyers and as long as the leaf keeps coming in, Pratt thinks. "The price will be below contract levels, but some farmers will be anxious to sell it at some price if they can." But he is not sure all of it will. "I just don't know if all the tobacco is going to get sold. The reality is we had a big crop with a high yield. Now quite a bit is still out there. But we have a world oversupply." Most dealers have tobacco 'on the shelf' and it is not moving very well, he says.
It is a very slow market right now. "I don't think many companies-including us-are buying pounds beyond contract," he says. "If they are, it would be most likely be at a second tier of pricing." His assessment: Burley contractings for some companies could conceivably be down as much as 50 percent from last year.
Stripping in Kentucky came to a near halt last week by snow and intense cold. "We got 10 inches of snow at the beginning of this week, and we've had three more since then," says Pratt. "It is very cold. At my house it was eight below zero Wednesday night. Not a lot of stripping is possible in such cold."
A new sucker control product: Plucker-Plus from Drexel contains Sucker-Plucker and Drexalin Plus at a four to one ratio, providing both the contact activity of fatty alcohols and the local systemic activity of flumetralin. Labeled for all types of tobacco, it is available in 2.5 gallon jugs or 265-gallon totes. A jug provides the right rate for one acre of tobacco. Plucker-Plus is MH free and compatible with current spray schedules.
N.C. Extension specialist appointed: Matthew Vann will begin serving as Extension tobacco crop science specialist for North Carolina as of March 1, pending completion of his degree requirements. During his studies, Vann has served as anExtension associate with the N.C. State University crop science department. A native of Florida, Vann will be stationed in Raleigh.
A variety that holds: Marcus Lee of Johnston County, N.C., said at the Southern Farm Show that the relatively new flue-cured variety from Cross Creek Seeds, CC 143, holds extremely well in the field. "It is compares to K 326 in holdability," he said. "It will hold longer than most varieties. That gives you longer to harvest your crop." It also grows fast and cures well.
A burley auction in Asheville: For one of the few times in recent memory, western North Carolina had a burley auction this past marketing season. It was held in downtown Asheville in the Planters Tobacco Warehouse. Owner Billy Anders held four sales days, and about a half million pounds were sold. The best crops brought about $1.46 a pound, while lower quality sold for $1 a pound, he says. Every lot attracted a bid, and all bids were accepted. "We had two or three buyers at every sale," Anders says. Anders ended his sales in early February.
Some of the leaf sold in Asheville was produced in excess of a contract, while some was produced without a contract, says Anders. He says he may conduct an auction for the 2015 crop but thinks getting a company buying station would be a better strategy. One dealer is considering locating a station there. There are now no burley receiving stations in western N.C. The Burley Stabilization Corporation facility in Greeneville, Tn., and the R.J. Reynolds station in Rogersville Tn., are the nearest stations.
The burley crop in western N.C. was unexpectedly good considering the weather problems. This region suffered from the same frosts and-or freezes that afflicted many other tobacco areas the weekend of November 1, says Extension Burley Tobacco coordinator Stanley Holloway. But as far as Holloway knows, no tobacco remained in any mountain fields by that time. There may have been damage to leaf that was already in the barn, but it was not significant, he says.
An oversupply of sweet potatoes? Sweet potatoes held a lot of appeal for N.C. tobacco growers a year ago when a record 72,000 acres were planted in the state. More will likely be planted this year, but Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, says, "We just hope growers don't over calculate the numbers it will take to meet the demand. It would be easy for our growers to plant too many acres."
Best-ever black shank resistance: A new fire-cured variety could help growers in Kentucky and Tennessee deal with black shank. "KTD14LC may be a good choice for hotter black shank fields," says Kentucky-Tennessee Extension tobacco specialist Andy Bailey. "It has the best black shank resistance we have ever had in a dark variety." Rickards Seeds says KTD14LC's resistance level to Race 0 black shank is 10 and to Race 1 is 5. The variety was developed as part of the Kentucky-Tennessee cooperative breeding program.
Could humic acid help? The humic acid product Actosol improves the soil and makes nutrients more available, says its manufacturer ARCTECH. "You can foliar spray it or apply it through drip irrigation," says Dennis Bickel, ARCTECH sales manager. "It can lower your dependence on other fertilizers." All fields will benefit, he says. "But your lowest performing fields will see the biggest impact. We guarantee that your production will increase if you use it, so you can't lose."
Involvement in the industry: Zack Morris of Colerain, N.C., completed the 2015 NC State Tobacco Short Course earlier this month. "It was a good experience," he says. "I met a number of farmers and also individuals in the tobacco industry. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to be involved in tobacco activities." Like most Morris and his father Jim are growing less tobacco this year. But the flue-cured growers consider themselves fortunate because the reduction isn't too big. Morris and the other Short Course participants were recognized at the Tobacco Growers Association of N.C. annual meeting at the Southern Farm Show. (For a full listing, see TFN February II.) Also at the annual meeting, the Tobacco Growers Association of N.C. announced its award winners for 2015:
Distinguished Service--Lobbyist Patrick Ballantine of Wilmington, N.C.;
Extension Service Award--Tyler Whaley of Wayne County, N.C.;
Outstanding Director--Brent Adcock of Person County, N.C.
Farm Family of the Year--The Whitaker Farms of Randolph Co.: Richard and Faylene Whitaker and sons Shane and Travis.
The Tobacco Farm Life Museum of Kenly, N.C., also presented awards at the Southern Farm Show:
Innovative Young Farmer of the Year Award--Peyton McDaniel, Billy McDaniel and Phillip Watson of Hickory Meadows Organics, Whitakers, N.C.
Excellence in Agriculture Award--Joseph Priest, agriculture research specialist, N.C. State Crop Science Department..
And Governor Pat McCrory presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine to long-time tobacco specialist W.K. "Bill" Collins. The order is conferred by the governor on outstanding North Carolinians who have a proven record of service to the state.
Welcome to the February III issue of Tobacco Farmer Newsletter. For more information, you can call me at 919-789-4631 or email me at email@example.com. Thanks--Chris Bickers