Wednesday, September 13, 2017


A migrant harvest crew from Latin America hand picks flue-cured leaf on a farm near Raleigh, N.C., in this file photo by Chris Bickers. 

An early frost in Kentucky could find much of the burley crop unharvested, says. grower-warehouseman Jerry Rankin of Danville, Ky. He has looked around at the progress of harvest and added up the number of workers available to finish the job--and he is concerned. "It's not so much that the crop is late, although some of it is. It is that we are behind in getting it cut and to the barn. Labor is too short to make up that difference before October 2, when we expect to get our first frost."

The labor crunch is also being felt in Tennessee and southwest Virginia, says Don Fowlkes, manager, agronomy, Burley Stabilization Corporation (BSC). "I think we will get this crop harvested and barned. But it would help if H2A arrivals were more dependable. There is little local labor and the productivity is reduced."

It seems likely that at least some of this Tennessee burley crop is not going to stay in the field long enough to achieve maximum yield. "Our farmers are not going to be able to wait," says Fowlkes. "It is a late crop, and they will have to harvest it a little early to get it all in before first frost." Normally, you like to leave tobacco in the field four to five weeks after topping. "But they might (but hopefully won't) have to cut some of this crop in three weeks or less," he says. Be prepared to close up your barn if it needs it, Fowlkes says. "With late hung tobacco, there is more risk of freeze damage," says Fowlkes. "And there is more risk of green color from cold winds. You want to be able to close the barn."

Burley prospects better: While the long-term outlook remains uncertain, the burley market is definitely in a more balanced position than it was at this time last year, says Daniel Green, chief operating officer, BSC. "The 2017 USA burley crop will likely end up in the range of 150-160 million pounds or just over 13.5 percent of total world production. It appears that world production of burley should total just over 1.1 billion pounds for 2017, more than 15 percent less than 2016." Based on current cigarette production, approximately 1.2 billion pounds of burley are currently needed worldwide to satisfy demand, resulting in a slight, short-term shortage. "African volumes will rebound quickly and any shortage that results in increased sales of flavor burley should be satisfied by the end of 2018."

Blown away? When the rain and wind of Hurricane Irma reached south Georgia on Sunday, perhaps 30 percent of the crop was still in the field, says J. Michael Moore, Extension tobacco specialist. By the time it passed through, maybe half had been blown down or had its leaves blown off or otherwise been rendered unsalvageable. And Moore wasn't too optimistic about what survived. "The leaves were beaten by the strong winds and that may cause them to mature so rapidly that farmers won't be able to pick them before they deteriorate. So it could be that very little of the remaining Georgia crop will make it to the buyer.

Florida was luckier. All of its tobacco was out of the field when the storm arrived, although some was still in the barn, says Moore.

Power outages as a result of the hurricane were the stuff of worldwide news reports. Loss of quality in barns that lost power were a serious threat to the tobacco in them, but many Georgia growers forestalled that problem by obtaining emergency generators of one type or another before the power went out, says Moore.

Diseases in the East: In eastern North Carolina, much of the upperstalk tobacco in the field is getting hammered by black rot, says Roy Thagard, Greene County Extension agent. Other diseases such as black shank and Granville wilt also continue to progress. "There is a fear that tobacco farmers will get poor grades for their tobacco going forward," Thagard says...In the Pied-mont, growers are harvesting tobacco as quick as barn space will allow, says Charles Mitchell, Franklin County, N.C., Extension agent. "We have seen an enormous amount of Granville wilt this year with some black shank as well." But there was one bit of good fortune: "We dodged a bullet when Hurricane Irma shifted westward," Mitchell says...In the mountains of western N.C., harvest of burley is nearly complete in Yancey County, says Stanley Holloway, County Extension agent... The season's first frost--a patchy one in some low-lying areas--took place on September 8 in Watauga County, in the N.C. mountains.

USDA issued its September Crop Report on September 12. But because it is based on a farmer survey conducted between August 25 and September 6, it is already out of 
date because storm activity. For the record, the production estimates for each type (but not the producing states) follow. Each projection is compared to the projection in the August report.  Flue-Cured:  473 million pounds, up four percent from the August Crop Report. Burley: 160.5 million pounds, no changeDark Fire-Cured: 59.6 million pounds, up  seven percent.  Dark Air-Cured: 20.3 million pounds, up 21 per cent.  Southern Maryland: 4.5 million pounds, no change.  Pennsylvania Seed leaf:  4.16 million pounds, no change.

Sunday, September 3, 2017


The effects of flooding on burley, from 2013 storm.


Now is the time to think about--and take action to avoid--possible losses in the
 field and curing barns as a result of the hurricanes and/or storms that are on 
the way, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia-Florida Extension specialist. "We have growers
expecting to be harvesting for four to five weeks," he says. "Even without a direct
hit, outer bands from a hit north of us could result in massive losses of the best
tobacco in the state."

While the natural tendency is to harvest as much as possible before any storm, you
may want to think ahead and not harvest any more than you can cure before damaging
winds arrive, Moore says. "Additionally, those same winds could result in downed
 power lines and interruption of power to curing barns filled with tobacco that 
cannot stand long periods of time without circulating air, heated or not."

If you have generators in place, it is possible to cycle on and off a single barn
before moving to the next barn, and maybe the next, before returning to the first
one allowing for enough air to complete the cure or keep the tobacco from being 
totally lost before power is restored.

Energy isn't the issue with air-cured barns. But Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension 
tobacco specialist, suggested it might be a good idea to close up your burley barns
if you are expecting very high winds along with rain, in order to keep the water
 out. "You would want to get right back out and open it up again once the weather
has passed," he says. "You want to get the air moving again."

Dark tobacco harvest began over three weeks ago in the Black Patch, but most remains
in the field, says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. This is beginning
to look like a very big crop for both dark types, Bailey says, with the USDA estimates
of 55 million pounds for fire-cured and 16 million for air-cured both seeming credible.
"This crop is definitely better than last year and I would say probably better than
the year before." The increase is a result both of better yields and of greatly 
increased plantings in response to buyer demand after the very short 2016 dark crop.
Reduced tillage of one sort or another is definitely catching on in the Black Patch.
Bailey estimates that close to 40 percent of the acreage is now planted strip till.
That would amount to about 9,000 acres. And no-till planting is also catching on,
with probably 500 acres planted this way. "Most of this is in western Kentucky, 
with lesser amounts in northwest Tennessee. There is a savings on land preparation,
and at harvest time, you are likely to have less dirt in the leaf because of the

The Tennessee burley crop has a lot of potential, says Eric Walker, Extension tobacco
specialist. In middle and northern Tennessee, harvesting is well under way but still
has a way to go. The eastern counties of Tennessee are not as far along in harvest,
but as of the last day of August, burley there still looked good. "But we got a 
lot of rain last night which resulted in some flooding," he adds...Through August
28, USDA estimated that 29 percent of Tennessee tobacco had been harvested.
The flue-cured tobacco that has been harvested so far in North Carolina seems to
has cured pretty well, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "You
would have to say the quality is good considering the stresses it went through,"
he says. Up till now, the leaf has been holding in the field. But that may be changing.
"A lot of leaf is ripening very fast on the stalk," says Vann. "Farmers want to 
get the leaf out of the field and into the barn as fast as they can." Try to avoid
any stress that will hasten ripening, he adds. "You sure don't want to agitate this
crop."...Through August 28, USDA estimated that 47 percent of the N.C. flue-cured
crop and 12 percent of the N.C. burley crop had been harvested.

With good weather, harvest of the South Carolina flue-cured crop may be complete
in two weeks, says William Hardee, S.C. area Extension agronomy agent for the Pee
Dee. Right now, his rough estimate is that 75-80 percent has been harvested... This
season will be remembered for tomato spotted wilt that started early and kept coming
well into the season. Horry and Marion counties averaged 40-50 percent spotted wilt
infestation with some individual fields reaching up to 70 percent. "However, most
of our growers have managed it well by sending folks ahead of the harvester to clean
out the trash tobacco in the field, and having their barn help pick it out as well,"
says Hardee.

With all the skips in the rows, you also worry about the tobacco that's left having
too much fertilizer and staying or curing green. "Fortunately, we have had consistent
rainfall in most of this area, which has really helped us manage fertility and
curability of this crop," says Hardee. "Even though we have lost some yield, the
overall quality and weight of the tobacco has been very good so far."

Farmers are now getting some soilborne disease infestations, mostly bacterial wilt,
says Hardee. "But with it coming a little later in the season, most growers have
been able to stay ahead of it. I hope that will continue to be the case, but with
all the rain we've had the last few weeks and the possibility of a hurricane, who

Fusarium shows up in Virginia: The fungal disease Fusarium wilt was identified on
burley earlier in the summer. It was found in Scott County in the southwestern corner
of Virginia. County Extension agent Scott Jerrell says, "This is highly unusual 
for burley in this area."

Early harvest in Virginia: Several flue-cured farmers in the southwestern Virginia
county of Brunswick have finished pulling tobacco in some fields and have begun 
to prepare the land for fall/winter cover crops, according to county Extension agent
Cynthia Gregg. USDA estimates 46 percent of the flue-cured had been harvested by
the end of August, a little early for this state.

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