Wednesday, September 14, 2016


The flue-cured crop in the Southside of Virginia was coming off well as the second full week of September began. This crew was harvesting on the David Buchanan farm near Skipwith, just north of the border with North Carolina.

VIRGINIA--This was one year when it really paid to irrigate in the Southside. "It was beautiful for a while but it turned off dry," says Keith Brankley of Skipwith. "We are irrigating now to keep it from burning up in the field." He expects yield will fall short of average, but the heat wasn't the main culprit. "We may be five to 10 percent short on pounds, because we had

Solar heat collected by a new solar barn helped David Buchanan save money on curing flue tobacco this season.
a lot of spots that got too much water." Green color from sunbaking isn't helping either. His brother-in-law and neighbor, David Buchanan, has passed the halfway point on harvest (see photo above). He is optimistic he will finish the first week of October, but many of his neighbors in Mecklenburg County have much farther to go. An early killing frost could cause real damage. In Lunenburg County, just north of Skipwith, heat is still the problem. "We've had some cooler days here and there, but it is still hot and dry overall," says Lindy Tucker,  Extension agriculture agent.  In adjacent Brunswick County, 'dry, humid and hot' best described the weather last week, says Cynthia Gregg, Extension agriculture agent. "Tobacco is yellowing quickly in the fields." USDA estimated that 52 percent of Virginia flue-cured had been harvested by the beginning of this week.

One way to cut curing costs: Buchanan bought a solar curing barn for this season, and the results have been good. "It is a Long Solar Eagle, and it uses a built-in solar collector to save fuel," he says. "It yellows more evenly due to heat from the collector on the top and sides. It seems I save about a day in curing." Long of Tarboro, N.C., will have Solar Eagles to sell this fall. "The Solar Eagle reduces fuel cost by 'actively' drawing fresh air for curing through the barn's integral solar collector where it is pre-heated before it reaches the barn's heat exchanger," says Bob Pope, general manager of Long Tobacco Barns. "This reduces the load on the barn's gas-fired burner, whether it be propane or natural gas." The barn's solar collector also transfers heat 'passively' to the curing chamber by direct conduction through its collector plate. Pope notes that a federal tax credit is available that reduces the cost of the Solar Eagle to less than that of a standard barn. For more information, call Long at 252 641 4796.

SOUTH CAROLINA--Much of the state's tobacco received heavy rains as a result of Hurricane Hermine. In Horry, S.C.'s largest leaf county, six+ plus inches of rain fell on September 2. The rain was needed but it brought harvest to a halt for much of last week. USDA estimates that about seven percent of S.C. tobacco remains to be picked.

NORTH CAROLINA--Tropical storm rains were a welcome event where they fell at the beginning of September. "Tobacco was in dire need of moisture," says Don Nicholson, N.C. Department of Agriculture regional agronomist. "There was little damage from the winds accompanying the storm." But conditions were so dry that more rain is direly needed now, he adds... Tobacco has matured earlier than normal in Harnett County this year and is not holding well, says Brian Parrish, county Extension agent. "Farmers are stripping tobacco fields, and this is putting pressure on the limited barn space available." Harvest will likely be finished by or before the end of September, he says...In Oxford, stripping of the remaining crop will probably begin next week, says Carl Watson, tobacco research specialist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture tobacco research station there. "The tobacco is deteriorating from all the sunshine"...USDA estimates that 73 percent of N.C. flue-cured has been harvested.

KENTUCKY--Farmers had harvested 57 percent of the crop by September 11, according to USDA. "Farmers have concerns over labor shortages for harvesting tobacco, as well as disease impacts and resulting weights," it added.

TENNESSEE--Hot and dry conditions last week allowed farmers to make great head-way with harvest, USDA reported. Tobacco producers cut an additional 16 percent more tobacco since last week with nearly half the crop now harvested. "Almost all of my tobacco producers are either done cutting or have started and close to finishing up," says Keith Jacob Boone, Extension agent in Hancock County in upper east Tennessee.

NORTH CAROLINA--About 50 percent of the burley crop in Yancey County in western N.C. had been cut by September 11, says Stanley Holloway, county Extension agent. For the state as a whole, USDA estimated that 34 percent had been harvested, well below the five-year average of 57 percent.

VIRGINIA--Burley harvest is well under way in Scott County in southwest Virginia. County agent Scott Jerrell said that through September 6, the crop appeared average... In nearby Grayson County, last week was a great week for harvest activities thanks to the lack of rain and hot temperatures, says county Extension Kevin Spurlin.

In other tobacco news...

Projections hold steady: USDA released its September projection of tobacco production on September 12. The volumes projected have changed only slightly for flue-cured and less than three percent for burley since the previous projection, on August 12. 
  • Flue-Cured: The September projections for the individual states are all the same or substantially the same as August's except for South Carolina, which is down 2.2 million pounds. The projection for all states is 474.1 million pounds, down 2.3 million pounds from a month ago.
  • Burley: The two leading states have declined since the August estimate by five million pounds-three million in Kentucky and two million in Tennessee. Pennsylvania increased slightly and Virginia and North Carolina were roughly the same. No other burley state participates in USDA surveys. The projection for these states is 145.7 million pounds, down 4.2 million pounds from a month ago.
  • Fire-Cured is down 2.5 million pounds from a month ago at 45.9 million pounds;
  • Dark Air-Cured is down 1.2 million pounds at 13.3 million pounds;
  • Pennsylvania Seedleaf is slightly above the last estimate at 3.8 million pounds;
  • Southern Maryland is unchanged from last month, also at 3.8 million pounds. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016


Virginia dark fire-cured tobacco appeared to have weathered the intense late-summer heat and has good prospects for yield and quality. But in the major dark-producing region of western Kentucky and north central Tennessee, the situation was quite different. PHOTO: This field was on display at the August 2 field day at the Southern Piedmont research station at Blackstone, Va.
BLACK PATCH--The dark crop in western Kentucky and north central Tennessee is having a hard time. Much of it had to be harvested early, says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. "It was wet so long. All the black shank came at once when it finally got a little dry three weeks agoSome fields with non-resistant varieties collapsed." In July, some places had 24 inches of rain. In August, some had 10 to 12 inches. The results were bad. "Production will be down 20 percent below original estimates, although that could be affected if substantial acres were planted beyond contracts." Throughout the season, dark tobacco in Tennessee suffered slightly less stringent weather extremes. "The crop there is better than in Kentucky for sure," say Bailey. Ironically, the burley that is grown in the Black Patch suffered more than the dark types, he adds.

VIRGINIA (Dark)--Robert Mills of Callands, Va., near Danville, finished harvesting his dark fire-cured four days ago. Some of it has been in the barn for three weeks. Normally he would "fire" the barns after 10 days, but he has fired nothing so far so as not to lower the humidity in the barns. "To this point, the dark tobacco looks real good," says Mills.

TENNESSEE--Despite a tough growing season, the burley crop in east Tennessee and neighboring areas of Virginia and North Carolina has done "surprisingly well" this season, says Don Fowlkes, manager of agronomy for the Burley Stabilization Corporation cooperative. He is expecting a close to average overall crop if a decent curing season is experienced. "The crop has suffered from lack of rain. It has been hot and dry for the most part. Two weeks ago we had a general rain, but it wasn't enough, and some areas will not fare well"... Much of middle Tennessee got too much precipitation. "Finally, a week without rain," said Ronnie Barron, Tn. Extension agent in Cheatham County near Nashville on August 28. "Tobacco harvest is in full swing."

KENTUCKY--Burley condition varies drastically between regions, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "Central Kentucky has a fairly good crop, but southern Kentucky has had a hard time with drowned tobacco and frogeye leafspot." There is a lot of concern about the possibility of frogeye leafspot resistance to Quadris, he says. "Some growers who applied Quadris did not get the level of control they expected. But there may be other explanations and so far, we have not confirmed any resistance yet." Perhaps 30 to 40 percent of the burley has been harvested, he says. "I suspect our average yield will be below average," Pearce says.

FLORIDA AND GEORGIA--"Nothing special but a good crop." That seems to be the assessment of the Deep South flue-cured as harvest winds down. J. Michael Moore, Extension tobacco specialist for these two states, says, "We still have tobacco in the fields, and it is all ripe. Everyone agrees that finishing harvest would be very timely. More than a quarter is still in the field." The farmers are moving as fast as they can, but there may be a delay as a result of Tropical Storm Hermine, which is expected to cross over the tobacco-growing area. It might bring needed rain, but for most of the crop, that will probably be too late to be much help. The leaf at the Type 14 markets seems to be a little darker than in recent years, probably because farmers have been trying to produce ripe yellow leaf for the China market. Not much lemon leaf is being produced this season, but Moore says Chinese buyers seem to like the orange to light orange tobacco that is coming to market. "Overripe is in demand and bringing the high dollar," says Moore.

SOUTH CAROLINA--It appears they have a fair crop, but farmers in South Carolina have to be disappointed about what could have been. "The crop got off to a very good start. It was well above average in quality," says William Hardee, S.C. Extension agronomy agent for Horry and Marion Counties. "But then we had two or three weeks of 100-degree temperatures and not much rainfall. We got heat stress and that was followed by bacterial wilt and some black shank." Now there is a lot of sun-baked tobacco, especially in the top of the plant. Harvest will be finished in one or two weeks, Hardee says.

NORTH CAROLINA--In the East, farmers are scrambling to get their flue-cured out of the field, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "Most fields have what might be two primings left, but farmers will probably try to get it all in one." Parts of the Piedmont are in worse shape. "Some there are just finishing their first harvest," says Vann. "That is scary late. For this tobacco, the farmers will need to harvest fromOctober 5 to October 20. That leaves us with at most 45 days till first frost." Some Piedmont farmers didn't complete transplanting till the first two weeks of June. "That is a red flag. They need to get it out by the first week of October but may not make it. Frost can come noticeably sooner than in the east."

VIRGINIA--Flue-cured in Virginia looks pretty good, although it could still use some rain, says Bill Scruggs of the Virginia Department of Agriculture.  "We are probably 10 days behind over all." Much of the crop was planted relatively late.  "We are probably 10 days behind overall" ...  Mills, the grower from Callands, Va., says there was too much rain early, then excessive heat. "Now there is not a lot of water," he says. "But we could have a good flue-cured crop if we can finish it."

A new auction in N.C.--The Horizon Ltd. Tobacco warehouse began holding sealed bid auctions at its location at 1705 Cargill Ave. in Wilson on August 17. Through the end of August, it had held four sales and sold roughly a half million pounds. Through the season, Horizon will be selling every Wednesday and also on Mondays if the supply warrants. For more information, call warehouse owner Kenneth Kelly at 252 292 8822.

Other auction warehouses currently operating include (with contact phone numbers):
  • Big M Warehouse, Wilson, N.C., 919 496 9033; and
  • Old Belt Tobacco Sales, Rural Hall, N.C. (near Winston-Salem), 336 416 6262.
If you know of any other companies auctioning flue-cured this season, please share the information with Editor Chris Bickers at 919 789 4631. A list of burley auctions will appear here later.


A book for those with memories of burley in Tennessee and N.C.  
Enjoy the recollections of 14 current and former burley growers along with a detailed narrative of the history of burley in America stretching back to the Jamestown Era. It will be an ideal present for anyone who recalls the "old days" in burley with affectionFor a copy, send $25 to co-author Chris Bickers at 903-9 Shellbrook Ct., Raleigh, N.C. 27609. Or phone him at 919 789 4631 (or

Bickers Editing Service, 903-9 Shellbrook Ct., Raleigh, NC 27609
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