Burley wilting on sticks in the field before transportation to curing barns. This file photo was taken in Macon County, Tn., near Nashville, in October 2014.
Burley production will fall well below USDA's original expectation, which was about 150 million pounds. Steve Pratt, general manager of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association in Lexington, Ky., says it might end as low as 110 million pounds. His counterpart in Springfield, Tn., Daniel Green, chief executive officer of Burley Stabilization Corporation, says, "If I had to guess, I would say around 120 million pounds beltwide. I don't think it will be any more than that." The USDA is more optimistic: In its most recent projection, dated October 12, the figure was 143 million pounds.
Way too much water: For burley growers, 2016 will be remembered as the year of too much water. "Much of the season was exceptionally wet for burley growers," says Green. "A lot of burley had to be bush hogged because of water damage. Then about the time it finally dried out, the weather turned exceptionally dry." There will be a relative shortage of lower stalk leaf because much fell off in the field as a result of the wet weather, he says. In many cases, the rest of the stalk was affected by fungal diseases. The upperstalk may not have as much of the brown to red color buyers like. "We will likely see a lot of bright color resulting from the dry curing season," says Green.
Perhaps a third of the burley crop in Tennessee has been stripped, says Green... Burley cured in outside curing structures seem to have produced some of the better-colored leaf so far this year, perhaps because the leaf has been exposed to more ground moisture, says Green... Some farmers in Kentucky couldn't get their burley in the barns fast enough, says Pratt. "It was starting to cure out when they cut it. They couldn't wilt it as long as they wanted"...Central Kentucky on the whole had better weather than western Kentucky which received more rain, says Pratt...East Tennessee had dry weather much of the season, says Eric Walker, Extension tobacco specialist. "A lot of the tobacco was adversely affected by disease, and some was significantly hurt by dry weather. But some did get timely rains and looked pretty good."
This year's burley should sell well. But will demand go unmet? Demand for American burley has been estimated at 150 million pounds, and there will definitely be a shortfall. But both burley cooperatives and most leaf companies dealing in burley have inventory left from previous crops, says Green. "The inventories could
mostly cover the shortfall." Certain stalk positions may be hard to find, including tips, red-leaf and flyings, he says. Another reason for scarcity--the short burley crop in the U.S. is following a short burley crop in South America.
Bitter truth for flue-cured growers:Nobody likes sunbaked leaf. Flue-cured growers generally got their crop planted last spring in good order (though Piedmont growers had to plant around periods of rain and wound up with some of their production planted very late). The season was going well until extreme rain affected middle growth, followed by day after day of 95-degree temperatures. "That sunbaked the top of the plant, and unfortunately for us, no one wants sunbaked leaf," says one observer. Foliar diseases were a big problem, also.
Still taking flue-cured: Two of the U.S. Tobacco Cooperative marketing centers are still receiving leaf: the La Crosse, Va., facility, which will finish on November 9, and the Kernersville, N.C., facility, which will finish on November 11.
New varieties from Rickards--Rickard Seeds is introducing three new flue-cured varieties this season: PVH 1600 features dual resistance to black shank Race 1 and 0 compounded with Granville wilt resistance. PVH 2254 features resistance to Granville wilt, TMV and dual resistance to black shank Race 1 and 0. It is a high-yielding, late-season variety that has gained worldwide popularity. NC 938 is the newest variety from N.C. State University's breeding program and features high yields, black shank Race 1 and 0 resistance, and intermediate Granville wilt resistance. It will be jointly marketed with the other major seed producers.
DATE TO REMEMBER
December 1. N.C. Tobacco Day 2016. Johnston County Extension Center, 2736 N.C. Hwy. 210, Smithfield, N.C. Meeting starts at 8:15 a.m. and ends with lunch.
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