Friday, June 29, 2012

Deluge from Tropical Storm Debby

Gullies like this resulted in many Florida tobacco fields after torrential rains associated with Tropical Storm Debby drenched the area on June 26 and the days leading up to it. The farm shown above is near the town of Lake City. But the Georgia-Florida Extension agronomist said on Thursday that the damage was not as extensive as he expected. The storm crossed north Florida starting June 26, dumped 16 inches on the major tobacco towns of Live Oak and Lake City, then left land via Jacksonville on June 27 heading to the Atlantic, never having strayed in the northern or southern tobacco areas of the state. 

It is not as bad as expected, said specialist J. Michael Moore. “Farmers as far south as Gainesville and as far north as the Georgia state line have little damage and will have a pretty fair crop. But those in the Live Oak area will not be so lucky—there is lots of drowning there, and there will be scalding from the hot sun on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.” Drowning damage continues to be compounded by extreme temperatures and bright sunshine, Moore said Friday. “As roots are suffocated and plants lack the ability to take up water, nutrients and oxygen, wilted leaves are scaled and burn. Although losses are heavy and continue to become evident, a large portion of the Florida crop and a large majority of the Georgia crop is not damaged.”

Temperatures of above 100 degrees are predicted for Saturday, June 30.

Moore's assessment on July 11: "The damage is still mounting. Farmers are still working with insurance adjusters on at least 300 acres."  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Canada tobacco off to a good start

The rejuvenated tobacco crop in southern Ontario looked “quite good” through June 18, said Dan Van Hooren of the Canadian Tobacco Research Foundation. He characterized the planting of this crop, which is all flue-cured, as "early to normal. A little was transplanted in June but the majority was planted in May. The planting season was warm for the most part and conditions were generally good for the young plants.” A farmer who raises tobacco near Lake Erie said the crop in his neighborhood appeared to be four or five days ahead of normal. “The stand in the field is good,"  he said. “A few farmers are making layby treatments but no one has made his final plowing.”

Canadian growers (almost all of whom are in Ontario) got a modest boost back in March when China announced that it would contract for 12 million pounds from them. They hadn't bought any in any recent year. That lead to a five percent increase in volume from 2011, up to 52 million pounds, according to the grower cooperative. About 19,600 acres have been planted, up 700 acres over.

Ontario's bright leaf looks like an excellent fit in China because of the Chinese taste for "lemon" leaf.  "There is a demand in China for this type of leaf that goes back to the introduction of English style cigarettes," says W.K. Collins, retired N.C. Extension agronomist. "The bright looks and smoking characteristics that Canadian leaf has should be very compatible with this longstanding demand."

More blue mold in Pennsylvania

Blue mold was found in late May in several traditional outdoor plantbeds and also some greenhouse float beds and was carried to several fields.  Since then, the disease has spread to additional fields in at least two counties--Lancaster and Chester--and some fields now have significant sporulating populations. "Most farmers are now aggressively spraying," says Jeff Graybill, Pa. Extension agronomy educator. "It seems to be worse on the burley types but is present at some level on Pennsylvania seedleaf and Southern Maryland as well." 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tobacco Tours and Field Days 2012

  • South Carolina Tobacco Tour, July 10. Starts at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center near Florence, S.C., 8:15 a.m and lasts till mid afternoon. For information, call 843-662-3526.
  • North Carolina Tobacco Tour: July 23, 24 and 25. Ends in Danville, Va. For information, call 919-513-1291.
  • Virginia Farm Tour and Field Day, July 26. Starts in Danville, Va., and ends with an evening program at the Southern Piedmont Center in Blackstone, Va. For information, call 434-292-5331.
  • Corn/Soybean/Tobacco Field Day, August 9. At the Kentucky Research and Education Center in Princeton. Registration at 7:30 a.m. Ends at lunch. For more information, call 270-365-7541 (0).
  • Kentucky Burley Tobacco Tour, August 7 and 8. Starts at Spindletop Farm near Lexington, Ky., 1 p.m., Tuesday. Tour begins 8 a.m. Wednesday with stops in Fayette, Woodford, Anderson, Mercer and Nelson Counties, ending up near Bardstown Wednesday afternoon.  For information, call 859-221-2465.

A Late June Crop Report

GEORGIA-FLORIDA: Harvest got under way in Florida in mid June, and it was not far behind in Georgia. "I visited one farmer in Florida who was taking out his first three barns on Wednesday and another who was taking out his first two," said J. Michael Moore, the Extension tobacco agronomist for Georgia and Florida, on June 21. The early season was extremely dry in Florida and in Georgia, and some growers had to irrigate to get a stand. But from early May through mid-June, rains were adequate and in a few areas even excessive. "Some farms, mostly in the east, got 15 to 21 inches in that time period," said Moore. "Conversely, rainfall in some areas west of I-75 has been very limited." All tobacco in both states had been transplanted by the beginning of June--an estimated 850 acres in Florida and 9,000 acres in Georgia. The limiting factor was plants. "We planted every plant we had," said Moore. "We had some fields affected by wind and sandstorms where the farmers wanted to replant but couldn't, because plants weren't available." Nevertheless, Moore said that as of June 15, Georgia-Florida growers had the chance to produce a very good crop. He said harvest would start in Georgia the week of June 26 and get going in earnest around July 4. The crop may be about a week ahead of schedule at this point, he says.  

CAROLINAS-VIRGINIA: North Carolina experienced some excessive rain from transplanting to mid June. "Still, the crop looked exceptional almost everywhere we grow flue-cured," said Loren Fisher, N.C. Extension agronomist. "The Eastern N.C. crop got off to a very fast start. Some were topping on June 14, and some growers may be able to start harvest by July 4. All our growers appear happy with this fast start." One of the few problems he saw was that the Piedmont crop had been to an extent cut into two crops by a period of rain so heavy that planting had to be stopped. But that will only be a problem if it causes very late harvest of the later planted tobacco. As to planted area, he said that is a moving target, but 165,000 to 170,000 acres would be a good number for planning purposes. About 35 percent of the South Carolina crop was topped by June 17, well ahead of the five-year average for this date of 20 percent. Many Virginia flue-cured growers have laid their crop by and are applying their first contact sucker control applications, said David Reed, Virginia state flue-cured agronomist. "The crop looks very good. It is rather uniform. Our rainfall has been very sporadic." He estimates that acreage is up five to 10 percent to maybe 21,000 acres. "Our transplants were ready earlier than normal, and we went to the field early." By June 1, maybe 75 percent was set, noticeably earlier than normal. By June 15, most if not all the crop was in the field.

KENTUCKY-TENNESSEE: Most burley states finished planting early. Close to 95 percent of Tennessee tobacco had been transplanted by June 15, said Paul Denton, Kentucky-Tennessee tobacco agronomist, while 89 percent of the Kentucky crop was in the field. Burley plantings in North Carolina were 91 percent complete by mid June, according to USDA, while those in Virginia were 98 percent complete. Central Tennessee and Kentucky, however, were hot and dry, with rainfall during the growing season three or four inches below normal. "We may soon see some problems if there are no general rains," he said. Plantings in the two states is up a little, including a few extra acres set out just because the supply of plants was so good. "Growers are more optimistic than in either of the two past years," he said.

APPALACHIANS-PENNSYLVANIA: The crop in the Appalachian portion of Tennessee--the eastern part of the state--looked, Denton said, "as good as I have ever seen it, and I was born and raised in the area!" In southwestern Virginia, too, the burley crop was off to its best start in five years, said Danny Peek, state tobacco agronomist. There was an unexpected problem of early black shank. It was seen mainly in fields where growers had been growing a resistant variety for several years and saw no black shank. Assuming the disease was gone, they switched to a short season variety with little black shank resistance and found out the fields had black shank after all. The Pennsylvania tobacco crop--made up of roughly equal acreages of burley Southern Maryland and seedleaf and a little dark air-cured--was well ahead of schedule compared to any recent season, said Jeff Graybill, Pennsylvania Extension agronomy educator. "It appears as if there is a little movement of blue mold out in the field. We are supposed to have dry weather for the next week, which should help."

KENTUCKY-TENNESSEE-VIRGINIA: The dark types of Kentucky and Tennessee lagged behind their normal planting schedule. Andy Bailey, Extension tobacco agronomist for those two states, said 15 percent of the two crops remained to be planted at the middle of June. Extreme drought earlier in the season was the reason, and some crops had to be abandoned. The Tennessee crop was in better shape than Kentucky's, Bailey said. A farmer near Clarksville, Tn., told Tobacco Farmer News on June 22, "It is getting on the dry side here. There are not many farmers who couldn't use a rain, and some need it bad!" Planting of the small Virginia dark fire-cured crop was finished by June 17, according to USDA. Field conditions were dry to begin with, but rains on May 29 helped. Acreage appears similar to last year.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Canadians make a big sale to China

China has agreed to buy 12 million pounds of Canadian tobacco from the crop currently in the field. That volume would amount to roughly a quarter of the 2011 Ontario’s crop. The sale will take place through Grand River Enterprises, a cigarette manufacturer on the Six Nations native Canadian reservation in southern Ontario. It is believed that new production will be contracted in the traditional production area of southern Ontario among traditional growers, although some who have exited the crop may have to come back. Grand River Enterprises owns a leaf processing plant in Simcoe and is expected to fill the Chinese order from it.

The sale appears overdue to some observers, since the bright leaf Ontario growers produce always seemed a good fit for the Chinese demand for “lemon” leaf. Grand River Enterprise delegations visited China three times last year and found officials there mistakenly believed tobacco was no longer grown in Canada, president Steve Williams told the Simcoe (Can.) Observer. “[But] the Ontario tobacco growing industry is starting to work again. We’re looking forward to a very long working relationship.” Almost all Canadian tobacco is flue-cured and almost all is grown in Ontario.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Planting nears end in Kentucky

Warm and dry weather conditions spurred on the setting of tobacco in Kentucky, says the crop reporting service. Through June 4, burley was 73 percent set, well ahead of the 49 percent set at that point last season. Dark setting was 66 percent complete, compared to 59 percent in 2011. By June 8, grower Roger Quarles of Georgetown, Ky., said burley plantings might be pushing 85 percent. "The crop got off to a good start, but we could use some rain, especially in western Kentucky," he says.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


In Virginia, flue-cured plantings are nearly finished. David Reed, Virginia Extension tobacco specialist, says no more than five percent in his state remains to be planted. "Except for a few cases where weather held farmers back, most of the acreage that remains belongs to farmers who have a tradition of planting relatively late," he says. "On the other hand, some of our flue-cured was laid by this week, and a lot more will be next week"... By May 29, the crop reporting service estimated that all but about four percent of North Carolina flue-cured was transplanted. Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have all finished... The Virginia dark fire-cured crop is perhaps 85 percent transplanted, says Reed. In Appomattox County, planting of the dark crop was well ahead of normal at the end of May, says Extension tobacco agent Bruce Jones. "We should be done next week." Field conditions were dry to begin with, but rains on May 29 helped. Acreage looks to be similar to last year: R.J. Reynolds apparently reduced contracted acreage, but Lancaster Leaf increased enough to offset it.

In Virginia, the dominant burley variety in the mountain counties may soon be KT 206, says Danny Peek, Va. Extension burley specialist. "It is high yielding and has good resistance to the two strains of black shank," he explains. Virginia growers had transplanted 68 percent of their crop by May 29... In the other two Appalachian burley-producing states, North Carolina growers had transplanted 82 percent of their crop by May 29, and Tennessee growers had transplanted 56 percent (that included the dark types as well as burley).

The Pennsylvania tobacco crop is well ahead of schedule compared to any recent season, says Graybill. "About 80 percent of the four types we grow was planted by the end of May. Normally, we would expect only 40 to 50 percent." One grower finished planting his 18 acres of Pennsylvania seedleaf on May 30. "He said he has never finished planting in May before!" says Graybill. Greenhouse plants may get scarce as transplanting winds down, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem. About a third of the state's plants are produced in traditional plantbeds. "We can usually stretch the supply of plants from beds if we have to," Graybill says.

Once again, nothing to report on U.S. Grower Direct. The press conference that was promised by USGD staff members a month ago has not taken place, no one has reported to me that they have signed a contract with the company and I assume that since transplanting is now so far along, it is unrealistic to think a significant contracting effort can be mounted. If anyone knows different, please call me at 919 789 4631.

The proliferation of secondary markets
 in the last few seasons--like the silent auctions for flue-cured in Wilson, N.C., and the conventional auctions in Rural Hall, N.C., and several locations in Kentucky--was inevitable, says Rick Smith, a leaf dealer in Wilson. "Even back when we had the program, there were secondary buyers. Sooner or later, some means would have had to be devised to sell tobacco produced beyond the contracted amount, or produced within the contract but failing to meet quality requirements."

An old-style auction still operates in North Carolina: For the third year, a warehouse 10 miles north of Winston-Salem will hold auctions for flue-cured and a little burley this season. You don't need a contract, just show up, says Dennis White, manager of Old Belt Tobacco Sales in Rural Hall. He will hold sales every Tuesday once contract delivery stations open. You can deliver tobacco Monday through Friday. This is an old-fashioned auction with buyers--all dealers--signaling their bids with their hands and voices, not electronic hand sets. "We sold five million pounds of both types in 2010 and 2.5 million pounds in 2011, when the hurricane reduced the tobacco available," says White. "Much of what we sell is contract tobacco that didn't meet company quality standards, or crop throw, or in excess of the contract." But he has sold some premium tobacco, and it brought contract prices. If you are interested in selling at Old Belt Tobacco Sales, call White on his cell at 336 416 6262.

A valuable resource is about to be lost: I for one am really going to miss the pointed analyses and the recommendations for action that the Blue Mold Forecast provided every time blue mold showed up over the years. Blue mold damage has been minor the last two seasons, but if we ever have another serious outbreak, everyone in the tobacco business is going to wish the webpage was still fully functioning. I remember so well walking through the burley fields near Asheville, N.C., with Furney Todd in 1979, trying to find a plant that did not have blue mold. That's a scene I never want to see again, and the Forecast Webpage has helped prevent it. Doggone it! This service couldn't cost that much. I challenge the industry and grower associations to free up a few funds, then contact N.C. Extension plant pathologist Mina Mila, who leads the forecast team. Let's get this worthy effort fully functional again. If I can help--and who knows, maybe I can--I will be glad to.

One other note on blue mold--Dr. Mila tells me that even without the forecast program, she still hopes to maintain the map of blue mold outbreaks that she's maintained over the years. So she hopes that the correspondents who have alerted her to outbreaks of the disease will continue to report to her.

Dates to remember: 
  • A Celebration for Retiring NCSU Dean Johnny C. Wynne, McKimmon Center, 1101 Gorman St., Raleigh, N.C. June 12, 6:30. For more information, go to
  • Georgia-Florida Tobacco Tour, June 11-13. Begins with dinner in Lake City, Fl., continues to Waycross the next night and ends in Broxton, Ga., noon, June 13. For information, call 229-386-3006.
  • South Carolina Tobacco Tour, July 10. Starts at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence, S.C., 8 a.m. For information, call 843-662-3526.
  • North Carolina Tobacco Tour: July 23, 24 and 25. Ends in Danville, Va. For information, call 919-515-0459.
  • Virginia Farm Tour and Field Day, July 26. Starts in Danville, Va., and ends with an evening program at the Southern Piedmont Center in Blackstone, Va. For information, call 434-292-5331.