This is what happens when you get 14½ inches of rain in three days: The Upper Coastal Plain
Research Station in Rocky Mount, N.C., received had 9½ inches of rain on July 16 and five
inches on July 19. Photo: Dominic Reisig, NCSU.
BUT THE DEEP SOUTH IS HOT AND DRY
NORTH CAROLINA: The Carolinas had better luck with rainfall than much of the Tobacco Belt. In some places, there was too much. "We had 9 ½ inches of rain on July 16 and five inches on July 19," says Clyde Bogle, superintendent of the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station in Rocky Mount, N.C. "Some was destroyed by rain and is not worth harvesting. The rain was accompanied by wind, and the tobacco got beat up pretty bad." But about 75 percent of the crop made it through the rain event and is doing well now, he thinks. "It looks like the tobacco we get to harvest will give a satisfactory yield. We have completed topping and sucker control, and priming should begin this week." Because of the rain and wind, it is expected to ripen faster than normal.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Tobacco harvest is well under way in the Pee Dee area of northern South Carolina. "We have a really good-looking crop now," says William Hardee, area Extension agronomy agent in Horry and Marion Counties. "It looks like it has good weight." Although much of the state has suffered from drought, Hardee says the tobacco area has been fortunate in getting adequate rainfall. "But it has been hot and dry most of the last two weeks. We are getting some heat stress now." There was some disease earlier but so far it has been contained. Most farmers are on their second cropping. The jury is still out on the quality of this crop, but Hardee thinks that a clearer picture should emerge in a couple of weeks.
GEORGIA-FLORIDA: Intense heat has affected the tobacco (all flue-cured) in Florida and Georgia. "We are still having 100 degree temperatures," says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist who covers Florida also. "In Florida last week I saw leaf curing right on the stalk, especially near the edges of fields where trees suck water out of the soil." He says plants are drying up from the top down and will lose yield and quality. But there also a few "mudholes" where the rain seems not to have stopped. It has frequently been accompanied by wind and many plants have been blown over. USDA has estimated that 27 percent of the Georgia crop has been harvested, and Florida will certainly be ahead of that. In Candler County, Ga., just west of Savannah, Extension agent Chris Earls says farmers finished up the last of their tobacco harvest by July 31.
VIRGINIA: Harvesting has begun on the flue-cured crop, but there is still a lot topping to do. The biggest problem has been spotty rain the last month, says David Reed, Virginia Extension tobacco specialist. "We have some areas that have had too much water and some areas where farmers are irrigating. The flue-cured crop is going to be a late crop. I would estimate it at two weeks behind schedule." In southwest Virginia, the traditional burley-growing area, it has been very dry, and crop development there has been slowed as well. In Appomattox County, hot and dry conditions are taking their toll, says Bruce Jones, Extension tobacco agent. "Lower tobacco leaves on all three types are burning at margins." Some tobacco irrigation has begun as producers hope for rain, he says.
BURLEY AND DARK
KENTUCKY: There's been "way too much rain" in the Bluegrass, says grower-warehouseman Jerry Rankin of Danville, Ky. "And much of our tobacco didn't need it," he says. "It has rained almost every day for the last two weeks." Some tobacco won't make it to the barn, perhaps in the eight percent range, he says. "Especially in the low-lying places." USDA estimates that about 24 percent (all types) has been topped.
BLACK PATCH: The dark-tobacco-producing area of western Kentucky and north central Tennessee have had way too much water this season. "We can't seem to miss a rain," says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. "We had eight or nine days without rain toward the end of the month, but then we got two to three inches in two days right at the end, causing more water damage." Farmers got 12 inches to 20 inches in July, he says. The production loss may be up to 25 percent. Perhaps 40 percent has been topped.
TENNESSEE: The rain was excessive in July in much of middle Tennessee too, right up to the end of the month. Paul Hart, Extension agent in Robertson County, says some dark tobacco harvesting began two weeks ago--a little early--because of the weather. Leafspot and weather flecking have both been problems, he says. There has been wind damage leading to crooked stalks, a real problem if you're trying to get your sucker control chemical to run down the stalk, as dark growers do.
NORTH CAROLINA: Drought conditions prevailed for most of the summer in the burley-growing areas near Asheville. But in the last week of July, scattered thunderstorms brought heavy rain showers to some areas of Yancey County, says Stanley Holloway, county Extension agent. But other areas received very little. There were instances of as much as five inches of rain resulting in some minor flash flooding. Other areas received only a trace to half an inch. The effect on burley is yet to be seen.
ANOTHER OPINION ON AUCTIONS IN THE 21ST CENTURY
I think auctions are the best marketing strategy tobacco farmers have ever had. If there was more auction marketing opportunities, then auction prices would probably yield a little better. For growers in my area (burley producers), the auction market is all we really have. Very few can get contracts, and those who do have to haul it many miles. I have only been offered a contract once in my life, and it involved hauling the tobacco eight hours away to a receiving station. I can stand to lose several cents a pound to save a trip like that. Almost all of our auction opportunities are gone now too. A way of life in my area is gone. Just a few of us are holding on. We used to have a warehouse on every corner, now we have flea markets as our only reminder. By the way, I think the unregulated free market is always best, and if I can produce tobacco cheap enough to sell at auction prices, then that is my constitutional right, and if a warehouse owner can make enough money to handle tobacco sales, then let him run his business. Let everybody grow their own crops and sell them where they will, and let the law of supply and demand take its course. It won't be fair and equitable to all growers otherwise. For those contract growers who wish that us wildcat producers would stop, you can push us out of business, call your contracting company, and beg it to drop the price per pound they are paying you, and our prices at the auction will drop as well to follow suit, and we'll be forced to quit.
Rob Wurth, N.C.
DATES TO REMEMBER
- August 2. Annual Tobacco Research Field Day. Southern Piedmont AREC, Blackstone, Va. Registration begins at 5 p.m., followed by dinner. Tour will begin at 6 p.m. Contact: Margaret Kenny at 434-292-5331 or makenny@ vt.edu.
- August 11. Tobacco Twilight Tour, Murray State University, Murray, Ky. Registration beginning at 5:30 p.m., followed by field tour and supper. Contact: Andy Bailey at email@example.com or 270-365-7541 Extn. 240.
- August 8-9. Burley Tobacco Research Tour in Central Ky. August 8: Begins at the Plant and Soil Sciences Field Lab., 3250 Ironworks Pike, Lexington Ky., at 1 p.m. Dinner at 5:30. August 9: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. tour of test plots on grower farms in surrounding counties. Ends Contact: Bob Pearce at 859-257-5110.