Thursday, March 22, 2018


A disappearing breed? A burley grower and his crew in east Tennessee prepare a planter for the field in this photo from the TFN files. Attrition in the number of Volunteer State growers is likely, thanks to the loss of AOI contracts.

The world's number two leaf dealer, Alliance One International (AOI), has withdrawn from the American burley market, at least for 2018. In a statement provided to Tobacco Farmer Newsletter, the company said, 

"With U.S. cigarette sales declining at a rate of 3% per year over the past three years and global cigarette sales following a similar trend, demand for the U.S. burley tobacco crop has declined as well. As a result, we made a difficult decision to not contract any burley tobacco this year. We understand the economic impact of that tobacco has on farmers and their local communities, and this decision was not a reflection of the farmers or their crop quality, but rather the change in global demand."
Editor's Note: I just have to think there is more to this than the declining market for tobacco products, although I don't doubt that it was a key factorThere might be some issues on the supply side affecting all burley buyers. 

Excess production, for instance: Daniel Green, c.e.o. of Burley Stabilization Corporation (BSC), notes the current market environment for burley is very challenging. "In spite of the drastic declines in American Blend cigarette sales in recent years, growers have continued to produce burley because of the lack of alternative crops, resulting in oversupply," he says. "Tobacco dealers are generally very averse to holding any more inventories than necessary in the current climate."

And what about several developments on the national level?" Among them are the potential regulatory changes being considered by the FDA that might require tobacco to contain much less nicotine," says Green.
BSC is still working on its 2018 contracts, Green says, and will probably send letters to its members next week. "We will help them as much as we can."
There will definitely be a reduction in burley acreage this year. Will Snell, Kentucky Extension tobacco economist, estimated earlier in the year that the demand for 2018's
crop would be around 110 million pounds. "We could produce that much on 55,000 acres," says Green. "Last year, we planted 89,000 acres."

It looks that way to Tennessee Extension tobacco specialist Eric Walker as well. "It appears that we are looking at a planting cutback of at least one third, and that might be a conservative estimate," he says. "I am not aware of any buyers that might pick up the slack."

The hardest hit areas will probably be those near Hartsville, Tn., where AOI has operated its burley buying station. That would include Trousdale, Smith and Macon counties, all in Tennessee, and nearby Allen County, Ky. Note: Macon has been America's leading burley-producing county in recent years.

A state of shock 
for Tennessee growers"It was like somebody just dropped a bomb," said Macon County grower Cynthia Jones, in an interview with the Macon County Times. "Nobody was expecting it. There was no warning. Everybody is devastated." The commissioner of agriculture took  notice too. "It is heart-breaking to hear the stories of multi-generational operations being forced to shift production focus or cease operations entirely," said Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton in a statement. "Many are now facing difficult decisions that will affect their families.

The immediate impact of AOI's exit from burley will be much greater in Tennessee than Kentucky because AOI had already cut back on contracting in the Bluegrass state. "But this is a lessening of demand, so there will be increased competition among growers for the pounds that are out there," says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist.

Farmers should emphasize quality to retain the contracts they have, says Pearce. "Some of the big [quality] concerns this year would be reducing foreign material in cured leaf and keeping pesticide residues in line with industry expectations."

A demonstrated willingness to participate in GAP as much as possible would probably be a good idea. "Getting involved with the GAP Certification program that is being rolled out could help show a commitment to the tobacco industry. But certification may not be feasible for every burley farmer," Pearce says. 
In other tobacco news:

As expected, planting has begun in Florida and is expected to begin in Georgia soon after April 1. "Farmers here are preparing for tomato spotted wilt and black shank using all precautions available against them," says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist who also handles tobacco Extension work in Florida.
In the Southside of Virginia, it's been wet and cool, so there has been very limited land preparation, says David Reed, Virginia Extension tobacco specialist. Fumigation has been delayed too, and some greenhouses haven't even been seeded yet. So, he doesn't expect much planting till the end of April or early May. 

Virginia flue-cured plantings will definitely be down. "It will be across the board, maybe five percent and probably no more than 10 percent," says Reed.

Check with your local Extension Service office for further details.
All meetings listed here are free and presented in English
  • March 23, 9 a.m. Hoffman Building at Solanco Fairgrounds, Quarryville, Pa.
  • March 23, 1 p.m. Hoffman Building at Solanco Fairgrounds, Quarryville, Pa.
  • March 26, 6 p.m. Nelson County Extension Office, Bardstown, Ky.
  • March 27, 12 p.m. Po Boy's Restaurant, Douglas, Ga.
  • March 27, 6 p.m. Gallia County Extension Office, Gallipolis, Oh.
  • March 27, 6 p.m. Laurel County Extension Office, London, Ky.
  • March 28, 1 a.m. Milton Shetler Farm, Harned, Ky.
  • March 28, 9 a.m. Ivan Hoover Farm, Leitchfield, Ky.
  • March 28, 7 p.m. Southern Hills CTC, Georgetown, Oh.
  • March 29, 1 p.m. University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.
  • April 5, 6 p.m. New Deal Tobacco, Weston, Mo.

Monday, March 5, 2018


Clipped and ready to go, these flue-cured plants await transplanting in this file photo from eastern North Carolina.
There may be a crop or two planted in Florida this week, but most growers there will probably wait till March 20 or later, while Georgians will probably start in earnest around April 7, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia/Florida Extension tobacco specialist. "We will have plants in plenty of time. Farmers are already clipping on a regular basis." Most plants are of good color, he adds. There have been no issues with insects and only a little pythium.

Steaming is catching on in Georgia, says Moore, as a few commercial plant producers are providing steaming as a service to their customers. Farmers are still doing some rinsing of trays. But dipping or rinsing trays in cleanser is only surface cleaning, and it can't provide decontamination of pathogens embedded in the walls of the trays.

In Kentucky, a few steamers have been used but the traditional dip treatment in a 10 percent bleach solution remains the most common strategy, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist.

Another possibility: Trilogy trays have actually done well in Kentucky testing. "We looked at them side by side with other treatments, and there was little difference in performance," says Pearce. "The biggest issue is price, although it seems like the trays are durable enough to last longer than conventional trays. But many growers are reluctant to make a long-term investment."

A proactive approach to disease control in the greenhouse is a key to growing a quality transplant, says Pearce. Leafspot diseases are a good  example. "You need to begin preventive spray when plants are just big enough to cover the cell," he says. "Spray Manzate once a week, substituting Quadris one week."

A number of awards were presented--and one new grower leader was introduced--during the 2018 Southern Farm Show held from January 31-February 2 in Raleigh.

The Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina presented six awards during its annual meeting on the last day of the show:
  • Distinguished Service Award--Ray Star-ling, Special Assistant to the U.S. President for Agriculture.
  • President's Award--Brandon and Clint Strick-land, Salemburg, N.C.
  • Outstanding Director--Tim Yarbrough, a Caswell County, N.C., tobacco grower and past president of TGANC.
  • Lifetime Century Member -- Richard Reich, N.C. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Services Assistant Commissioner,  Reich retired at the end of February.
  • Extension Service Award--Hannah Burrack, N.C. Extension Service entomologist.
  • Farm Family of the Year--Rouse Ivey Family Farms, Duplin County, N.C.
The Tobacco Farm Life Museum presented two awards at its annual "Breakfast with the Commissioner" on the last day of the show:
  • Innovative Farmer of the Year--Justin and Holly Miller, Cherry Hill Farm, Advance, N.C.
  • Excellence in Agriculture--Bobby Wellons,  Tobacco Marketing Specialist, USDA AMS, Princeton, N.C.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture presented its export award during the Ag Development Forum on the second day of the show:
  • N.C. Exporter of the Year--Scott Farms of Lucama, N.C. Accepting the award was Linwood "Sonny" Scott Jr., president and co-owner of the farm.
The U.S. Tobacco Cooperative (USTC) introduced its new Chief Executive Officer:
  • Robert B. Fulford Jr., whose appointment took place the week of the show. Fulford previously was Vice President--Leaf Operations for Reynolds American Incorporated and earlier held senior level positions with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and with Brown & Williamson. "Robert has a track record of strong leadership, [which when] combined with his deep industry knowledge, makes him uniquely qualified to lead USTC successfully into the future," said Andrew Shepherd, a Blackstone, Va., farmer and chairman of the USTC board. Ed Kacsuta, USTC's Chief Financial Officer, said Fulford is the best choice to lead the cooperative. "He has been a successful executive, and more importantly, he's a great fit with our culture and core values. We're delighted that he has accepted the position." 
(Note: This piece appeared in slightly different form in an earlier edition.)