Outlook glum: I didn't hear the optimism about contracting volume that I was hoping to at the Southern Farm Show last week. Indeed, some of my most reliable sources were dejected about the prospects. From what I could gather, a reduction in contract pounds of no more than 10 percent would be a moral victory at this point. That's for flue-cured--burley might get treated a little better because of its huge shortfall in 2015, I learned. More on this in my next issue, roughly.
Indirect benefit of lower fuel prices: Since gas prices have dropped by nearly half since last year, consumers should have more discretionary spending money in their
pockets, said Tim Yarbrough of Prospect Hill, N.C., outgoing president of the N.C. Tobacco Grower's Association, at its annual meeting on February 5. "As convenience stores are a major point of sale for cigarettes one pack at the time, so it is reasonable to expect domestic sales for pre-mium brands to see a slight increase. If this holds true, it could be a glimmer of good news for domestic leaf used in premium blended pro-ducts." On the other hand, imported leaf is cheaper with a strong dollar. "So we have to work to market our premium leaf on its merits and the real value of its quality characteristics."
Balancing supply and demand: Universal Corporation George C. Freeman III continues to be optimistic that world leaf supplies are approaching balance with demand. The El Nino weather pattern has reduced crop production levels in Brazil and may also affect African crops, he says. "We believe that production declines resulting from this weather pattern, combined with reduced plantings in some origins, will bring markets largely into balance in fiscal year 2017."
How much of a decline? Universal is now forecasting an 11 percent decline in flue-cured crops produced outside of China in 2016 and a six percent decline in burley crops, compared to 2015.
Insects on organic: If you're setting in a field that is high risk for soil insects, plan on having extra plants, says Hannah Burrack, N.C. Extn. entomologist. "Many new organic tobacco growers are planting in fields that have not previously been in tobacco," she says. "We do not know what the potential is for soil insect damage in these fields, but organic tobacco growers should be aware of potential risk." Fields previously planted in grasses or pasture may especially foster higher wireworm populations, she adds. There are no effective organic insecticides to manage soil insects, so pre-transplant treatment is not recom-mended. "Instead, organic growers planting into recent grass or pasture land should be aware of potential damage and be prepared to fill in plants if necessary to ensure a good stand."
New marketing center in Southside Virginia: The U.S. Tobacco Cooperative has announced it will open a marketing center in La Crosse, Va., this season. It will primarily service the Cooperative's flue-cured growers in Va. and N.C. The 161,250 square foot facility is located near the intersection of Interstate 85 and U.S. Hwy. 58.
The marketing season in the Bluegrass turned out reasonably well. "It was a good marketable crop," says Roger Quarles, a grower from George-town, Ky. "I can't say anyone was really pleased with the season as a whole. 'Relieved' might be a better word." Good tobacco sold at an acceptable price, especi-ally near the end of the season, and although there was an obvious shortfall in yield, farmers seem to have done a little better in filling their contracts than might have been predicted, he said.
Another new float tray steaming unit is on the market this year. Carolina Greenhouses, Kinston, N.C., is selling the Steamerator tray cleaning system. With a capacity of 840 trays, it has doors at each end for loading without driving through. It takes 30 minutes at most to reach a temperature of 176 degrees, and it takes 90 minutes to run a cycle, according to the manufacturer. For more information on the Steamerator, call Carolina Greenhouses at 800-635-4532.
NEW GAP RECERTIFICATION MEETINGS
NORTH CAROLINA (Burley)