An ample supply of transplants appears on the way in North Carolina. Substantially all the flue-cured greenhouses in N.C. have been seeded now and in most, the plants are up and growing, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. He thinks a few fields would probably have been set at the end of this week, but predictions of very cold weather Friday night and Saturday morning have probably delayed those plans. "Temperatures of as low as 28 degrees have been predicted in east N.C.," he says. "But if the cold doesn't last, we will still be right on schedule for transplanting."
It's been a good greenhouse season so far in southern Virginia, says Chris Haskins of Chatham, about 25 miles north of Danville. "I will have to mow my plants by the end of this week," says Haskins, who grows flue-cured and burley. "They are ahead of schedule now thanks to all the sunshine and warm weather we had in March. We didn't have much wind then, but it is blowing now." He seeded his house on March 8 and plans on starting planting by the end of April, if not sooner.
Burley seeding continues in western N.C. "Greenhouses at the Mountain Research Station at Waynesville were seeded about a week ago," says Vann (on April 5). "The seedlings have gotten off to a good start."
Don't let greenhouses get too cold. "If we can keep to a minimum temperature of 55 degrees, there shouldn't be any cold injury," Vann says.
Guest workers get more expensive: In Kentucky, the H-2A wage rate increased from $10.28 per hour in 2015 to $10.85 per hour for 2016, says Kentucky Extension economist Will Snell. That is 42 percent more than it was at the time of passage of the buyout. Accounting for transportation, housing, utilities, worker compensation insurance, fees and the other expenses associated with H-2A labor, the total 2016 wage rate for the H-2A guest worker program is likely to be in the neighborhood of $13 to $14 per hour, Snell says.
The official average price for the 2015 burley crop will likely be near the 2014 average of $1.94 per pound, Snell says. Prices held up fairly well even though there were several negative factors: Global supplies were ample entering the 2015 season, global blended cigarette sales were slumping, the U.S. dollar was strengthening and there were concerns about crop quality. But those factors were to a degree overcome by relatively strong U.S. cigarette sales, an improved U.S. burley trade balance and concerns over the effect of to El Niño weather patterns on South American and African burley crops.
With some recent U.S. burley prices rising to $2 per pound, it can be said that actual prices are returning to pre-buyout levels. "But real prices adjusted for inflation have declined by more than 20 percent relative to 2004," says Snell.
Be prepared to weed your tobacco by hand if it needs it late in the season, says Matthew Inman, N.C. Extension associate. And be sure to do it in a timely fashion so that you prevent weed seed from going back into the weed seed bank. "If suitable weed suppression has been realized in early and mid-season, weed removal by hand can be accomplished with very little added production cost," he says. "It will also aid in harvest efficiency and will reduce weed seed contamination in cured leaf."
Remember that relying on just one weed management practice is not an effective weed management program, Inman says. "It is best to use all available resources; crop rotation, cultivation, herbicides and hand weeding. Cultivation and herbicides are not perfect, and there are going to be weed escapes." When that happens, the only other option is pulling them by hand. "Doing this in a timely manner can prevent a larger weed problem down the road," he says.
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