Thursday, November 16, 2017


 In Malawi, buyers inspect burley tobacco on the Lilongwe auction floor. 

Flue-cured: The 2018 Brazil flue-cured crop--which is currently  in the field--has been projected at a volume of just under 1.3 billion pounds. That is slightly lower than the 1.37  billion  pounds  reported  for  the  crop  harvested  earlier  this  year,  says Blake Brown, N.C. Extension economist.   Both crops are/were well above the recent low of 1.01  billion  pounds in  2016.  The 2017 Zimbabwe crop -- for which marketing ended recently--is estimated to have been 403 million pounds, down from
442 million pounds in 2016. The 2017 average price per pound in Zimbabwe is expected to have been about $1.34 per pound, which is about the same as in 2016. "A stronger Brazi-lian Real and a larger (US) 2017 crop should lead to higher exports for the 2017 crop," he says.

Burley: In Malawi, our strong competitor in burley, international buyers have asked for production of about 375 million kilograms from the 2017/18 crop, according the national Tobacco Control Commission. This is a 10 percent increase from the 2016/17 volume. But that may not be as significant as it sounds: Production fell well short of demand in the season just ended with only 240 million kilograms coming to market against the stated demand of 350 million kilograms. The commission's Chief Executive Officer, David Luka, said, "This 10 percent increase in demand could be a result of the undersupply of tobacco the market experienced in the just-ended season."

The dark types had better luck in harvesting on schedule than flue-cured and burley, but still, some was cut late. In Trigg County, Ky., some fire-cured was still being cut the first week of November. That is risky, says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. "We usually don't do well with fire-cured that is cut after November 1. There is less chance of good curing weather after that." The rainfall was favorable for most of the dark-producing area in the fall, although there were some heavy rains associated with Hurri-cane Irma, especially around Springfield, Tn., causing some damage.
Bailey's rough estimate of dark production?Maybe 56 to 57 million pounds of fire-cured and 16 to 18 million pounds of dark air-cured. Both estimates are one to two million pounds less than USDA's last Crop Report. Yield might be 3,200 pounds per acre for fire-cured and 2,800 pounds per acre for dark air-cured, he adds. Both are close to average. "What I have seen is pretty good," says Bailey. "It is a hundred times better than last year" when bad weather seriously reduced yields.

If any tobacco is still left in the field in North Carolina, it probably will stay there. "Jack Frost got his due over the weekend [November 11 and 12], and I wouldn't think there would be much useable leaf after that," says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extensiontobacco specialist. "Most of our growers were finished by October 20, but there was an area north of Oxford, N.C., on up to the Virginia state line where the crop was behind. There was a mad dash to finish and some had to harvest much later than normal."

This flue-cured season will be remembered for its early disease outbreaks, especi-ally tomato spotted wilt virus, says Vann. "It was the worst I have ever observed. We even saw some very mild cases in the Middle Belt, which is unheard of. We (the N.C. Extension tobacco team) are working on management strategies to deal with the disease." Breeding might eventually help--at the present time, no varietal resistance is available.

Welcome to the November II issue of Tobacco Farmer Newsletter. If you haven't signed on to receive the newsletter regularly or need to change an address, please click on "Join our mailing list" and follow the prompts. For more information, you can call me at 919-789-4631 or email me at         --Chris Bickers

A Letter to the Editor

We spend so much time talking about production. But the most pressing issues we face now are the price we receive for our tobacco and the wage that we pay H2A workers. I have made 38 tobacco crops in my life time, and I have never seen the situation this bad financially, even in the days when we were paying 25 cents into the no net cost program. I have been working H2A workers since 1985. The wage then was $3.95. It has increased over the years, but in the last 10 years, it has gotten out of hand. Growers are reluctant to admit it, but their workers are making more money than they are. I am a member of Virginia Agricultural Growers Association and am currently its treasurer. In 2017 we brought in 1,600 workers to Virginia growers. Less than 10 years ago we were bringing in over 3,000. You can see the trend: More acres, less farmers. If we continue down this path of reduced price and increased wage and production cost, tobacco production will soon die here in Virginia. We are all afraid of upsetting the tobacco companies and losing our contracts, but someone must speak. I pray that our leadership will be more vocal to the companies about this wage issue. If the Adverse wage continues to increase without an increase in price (which is unlikely), all of this will be a moot point. Tobacco farmers are at the bottom of the food chain and everyone else is feeding off us!--Tom Blair, Pittsylvania County, Va. 
  • December 7, 8 a.m. N.C. Tobacco Day 2017. Johnston County Extension Center, 2736 N.C. Hwy. 210, Smithfield, N.C. Meeting ends with lunch.
  • January 17-18, 10 a.m. S.C. AgriBiz and Farm Expo Florence (S.C.) Civic Center at the junction of I-95 and I-20.
  • January 31-February 2, 9 a.m. Southern Farm Show. N.C. State Fair Grounds, Raleigh, N.C.
  • February 210 a.m. Annual Meeting, Tobacco Growers Association of N.C., Holshouser Building, N.C. State Fair Grounds (during Southern FarmShow). Meeting ends with lunch.


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Burley wilts in the field near Lafayette, Tn.
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. 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.

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