Hustling to beat the hurricanes: Workers hustle to get flue-cured leaf in barns in Wake County, N.C. (File photo by Chris Bickers)
With Florence bearing down, many of the flue-cured growers along the Atlantic Coast faced intense weather conditions with significant tobacco still in the field. Georgia might dodge the bullet since the path of the storm is expected to pass by it, and most of its crop has been harvested already (95 percent as of September 9, according to USDA). But South Carolina still had 10 percent unharvested, Virginia 35 percent, and in North Carolina, Extension specialist Matthew Vann reckons that 40 to 45 percent of the fields still have enough tobacco in them to be negatively affected by Florence.
And the effect can be severe, Vann says. "You can expect heavy rains and very strong winds, and that will cause leaf whipping," he says. "It appears that we can expect at least a three-or-four-day wind. With the intensity of the conditions expected, the leaf is going to ripen extremely fast." To make matters worse, it has been coming off fast the last few weeks, and Vann feels most growers are already maxed out on barn space...What to do? Well, in the short term, the goal should be to minimize the leaf you lose as a result of electrical failure during the cure. Grant Ellington, Extension agricultural engineer at N.C. State, provided an excellent set of recommendations a few storms ago. I am going to print it below in hopes it will help you prepare for the worst.
Should adverse weather cause the loss of electrical current to the tobacco curing barn and a backup generator is not available, listed below are some tips that are recommended in order to minimize leaf damage.
For tobacco that is being cured, the damage that might be sustained is related to the stage of cure when the power is lost and the condition of the tobacco when it is loaded into the barn. Tobacco that is in the very early or late stages of curing generally fairs the best when the power is out for extended periods. The following guidelines are useful when generator capacity is limited or not available:
Barn Loading Considerations
In East Tennessee, 2018 is beginning to look like a better-than-average season. "We have a good-looking crop," says Don Fowlkes, Agronomy Manager, Burley Stabilization Corporation. "There were the normal seasonal challenges, but now it appears that we have decent weight and the outlook for good quality also." At least half has been harvested and curing has gone well. Growers got a break in the first few weeks of curing. "It has beenunusually hot the past two or three weeks, but we have had good humidity so the tobacco hasn't cured too fast." Fowlkes has hopes that this crop may have plenty of the reddish color that buyers are looking for.
In Kentucky, a fairly dark color seems on the way too, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension toba-cco specialist. So far, there hasn't been significant flash curing. Like Tennessee, Kentucky has plenty of humidity. Maybe too much. Pearce fears there may be a problem of houseburn. Some Kentuckians got rain from Tropical Storm Gordon, but there hasn't been much rain since Sunday, Pearce says. "But it continues cloudy. We have had no sunshine for some time." More than half the Kentucky burley crop has been harvested, says Pearce. "But not much more."
The September USDA Crop Report was released at noon. Flue-cured tobacco production is expected to total 415 million pounds, the report says, down 10 percent from 2017. Burley tobacco production is expected to total 129 million pounds, down 20 percent from last year. Production projections by type and by state for flue-cured and burley follow.
Note--The only types that (according to USDA) increased in production over 2017 are dark air-cured and Pennsylvania seedleaf, neither of which is used in cigarettes.
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