How credible are USDA's recent estimates? As reported in the last issue, in its October Crop Production Report, USDA projected the U.S. flue-cured crop at 472.2 million pounds, up 9.8 per cent from 2016, and U.S. burley at 165.6 million pounds, up 18.5 percent from 2016. Both projections seemed too optimistic to me, so I went to two of the best sources I know of production in this country:
Flue-cured: Graham Boyd, executive vice president of the Tobacco Growers Association of N.C., thinks 405 to 410 million pounds is much more likely since the yield was reduced by weather factors. "Mostly too wet early in locations that cause the crop to grow fast and wash out its weight potential," he says. Tomato spotted wilt was a factor too.
Burley: Daniel Green, chief execu-tive officer of Burley Stabilization Corporation, estimated this burley crop will likely end up between 135 to 140 million pounds. "We had excess rain across much of the growing region late in the season," he says. "Some areas drowned out, but the real problem was leaf that grew too fast."
Hurricane alert: Torrential rains in September associated with Hurricane Harvey and to a lesser extent Hurricane Irma caused burley in the fields to start growing again. Much of the leaf looked great going in the barn, but is coming out on the thin side. The curing environment may have also been affected negatively, as many growers are reporting some "housey" burley. One way or another, yield was reduced in the major growing areas.
A fortuitous dry spell: A late-season drought worked in favor of east Tennessee burley farmers this season, says grower Jeff Aiken of Telford, Tn., near Johnson City. "There was adequate rainfall most of the spring and summer, but it was unusually dry in August and September." That aided in harvest and barning, he says. "We were never run out of the field because of rain." But then it did start raining in mid October, and that helped curing. "With moisture in the air, farmers were better able to get the desirable color." Aiken barned the last of his burley on October 6, a little behind schedule since frost strikes in east Tennessee some years by that time. "But the first significant frost in this area didn't come until the last week of October," he says.
Stripping nearly half completed: The central Kentucky burley crop experienced weather conditions similar to east Tennessee. There had been some delays due to tropical storms, but a favorable stretch of weather contributed to a speedy end of harvest (see Tobacco Farmer Newsletter, October II). USDA estimated that 45 percent of the Kentucky crop had been stripped by November 5.
The Virginia flue-cured crop ran late but all of it has been harvested now, says David Reed, Virginia Extension tobacco specialist. "We had a lot off it harvested in October," he says. That used to be considered late, but harvests continuing well in October have become the trend in recent years, he says. "One thing that worked in our favor: we haven't had a general killing frost yet." He describes Virginia's crop as good with reasonable quality. Yields were good too. "If we are short of what was contracted, it isn't by much." He expects production to fall in the 50 to 51-million-pound range.
The flue-cured crop in North Carolina is very usable, says Rick Smith, president of Independent Leaf Tobacco in Wilson, N.C. "In some areas it is close to vintage." And it could get still better. "There are still some farmers in Old Belt who haven't finished harvesting," he says. "The predictions are that there is no danger of a frost this week, so they may yet get it all in.
To "cross" the GAP, you'll have to scan. In an effort to keep the U.S. Tobacco GAP program "honest and fair for all who participate," GAP Connections (GAPC) will be instituting a new policy beginning in January, says Amy Rochkes, GAPC Training and Resource Coordinator. To do that, GAPC will require you to present identification (such as a driver's license) and your Grower ID Card, which will be scanned at the end of the training session. You can scan only your own Grower IDcard, not those of family members or landlords. You have to attend the entire GAP training session--late arrivals will be recorded at the discretion of GAPC Staff. GAP Connections will not add training after the event without verifying attendance with Extension personnel. You can find more information about the Annual GAP Training using the GAP Connections Grower App on the iPhone or Android, by visiting www. gapconnections.com or by following GAP Connections on Facebook.
New president: Barry Bush of Cookeville, Tn., was elected the new president of Burley Stabilization Corporation in Springfield, Tn., at the organization's annual meeting in October. He replaces George Marks of Clarksville, Tn., who passed away in July. Bush has been succeeded as vice president by Dean Bates of Gallatin, Tn.