Wednesday, May 23, 2018


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Young burley grows on a sunny day in a field near Cynthiana, Ky.


The threat of new Chinese tobacco tariffs may be gone--for now. A special envoy of China's President Xi Jinping said over the weekend that talks with U.S, officials ended with a pledge by both sides not to engage in a trade war, according to a Chinese news agency. The agency said China agreed to "meaningful increases in U.S. agriculture and energy exports," But tobacco was not specifically mentioned. Hopefully, that means no increases in tariffs on flue-cured exports, which is the type mainly imported by China.

But burley growers have had no relief from Alliance One International's (AOI's) decision to cease purchases of American burley. Eric Walker, Tennessee Extension specialist, says the big burley-producing counties of middle Tennessee -- Macon,Trousdale and Smith -- will clearly take a major hit. For the state as whole, he thinks we might possibly see an 80 percent crop, and it could certainly be smaller. The effect on burley plantings is still unclear, but no one doubts that Tennessee will be the state most affected.   

It has been a wet season in Tennessee up till now, he says, though it dried in some parts the past week. Walker advises growers not to start (or resume) transplanting too soon, especially if you are planting strip-till or no-till. "It is especially easy to set no-till too soon. Give the ground an extra day or two to make sure it is ready."
There doesn't seem to be a groundswell of Tennesseans planning to plant tobacco without a contract. And there is no news of any auction warehouses springing up that might sell "wildcat" tobacco. There haven't been any auctions in Tennessee in a number of years.
Macon County has been the number one burley county in Tennessee since soon after the buyout. It probably still will be this year, but it is facing a big cut in contracts. "We had 5,000 acres last year," says Extension agent Keith Allen, who is stationed in the county seat of Lafayette. "I am going to guess we will have 3,000 to 4000 acres this year, maybe closer to 4,000 than three. But that may be too optimistic. It is very hard to put a handle on it."

Efforts are going on to get a new company to contract from Holder's Tobacco Warehouse in nearby Hartsville, Tn, which had served as AOI's burley receiving station in Tennessee. But so far, no candidate has emerged, says Allen.

Setting has started in Macon County but is not far along. It was slowed by spotty rains that were heavy in some spots Thursday and Friday, Allen says.

In Kentucky, farmers have had a slow start on transplanting. A challenging transplant production season was part of the reason, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "We had more issues in the greenhouse than normal, primarily pythium and rhizoctonia damping off."

By the end of the season, there should be enough plants to supply the full Kentucky crop, but some growers may not get plants at the time they prefer, Pearce adds. Few plants are ready now, but some setting has taken place in Kentucky, though at a very slow pace.

News from the Carolinas and Virginia from the USDA's Crop Progress and Conditions report for May 13:
--In South Carolina, transplanting was 94 percent complete by May 13. "With warmer-than-normal temperatures and dry conditions, tobacco is beginning to grow off well," says Extension agent Kyle Daniel in Georgetown County. But inadequate topsoil moisture has been a concern
--In North Carolina, about 74 percent of the flue-cured crop had been transplanted by May 13. "Dry conditions are negatively affecting all crops, especially recently transplanted tobacco," says Don Nicholson, N.C. Department of Agriculture agronomist in the Coastal Plain. In Craven County in the east, warmer temperatures and lack of rainfall afforded opportunity for field work last week, says Mike Carroll. "Planting of corn and transplanting of tobacco are almost complete. In Granville County near Raleigh, "Transplanting continued with no problems reported so far other than being behind due to weather conditions earlier," says Paul Westfall, Granville County Extension.
--In Virginia, 37 percent of the flue-cured crop had been transplanted by May 13, compared to 18 percent of the burley crop and 20 percent of the small fire-cured crop. Extension agent Cynthia Gregg of Brunswick County in southeast Virginia says planting is going full swing and that tobacco there (mostly flue-cured) that has already been planted is coming along nicely.

  • June 11-13, Live Oak, Fla. Georgia-Florida Tobacco Tour, beginning with a 7 p.m. Kick-Off Supper at Brown Lantern Restaurant,  June 11.

PLEASE NOTE: I have a new email address both for the newsletter and for me. It is The old address ( is no longer functional. The telephone number remains the same--919 789 4631.--Chris Bickers

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


 Transplanting gets under way across the tobacco belt.
Flue-cured growers in North Carolina have transplanted in the ballpark of 15 to 20 percent of the crop, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "That is probably all in the East and southeastern part of the state. Little has been planted in the Middle and Old Belts. It has been too cold and way too wet."

Part of the problem has been night-time temperatures that have often been close to freezing, says Vann. "We need night-time temperatures of 60+ degrees, and we have not been close to that. But there has been no flooding. We are still good on time: Even if we didn't get most of the crop out till late April it would not be a concern." He estimated that statewide, the crop is a week or two behind.

East of Wilson, N.C., the crop may be later than that, says a leaf dealer. "To my eyes, we are a good three weeks late," he told TFN. "I have seen some tobacco get frosted twice. It wasn't killed, but it was held back." A lot is going into the ground now. "We should see 425 to 450 million pounds total of American flue-cured."

This was the best transplant season in Georgia in recent memory, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist, and the crop looks good in Georgia and Florida. But in South Carolina, heavy wind and rains considerably slowed completion of tobacco setting, says Rusty Skipper, Extension agent in Horry County.

A few plants infected with tomato spotted wilt virus have turned up in Georgia, primarily in fields that were planted very early or in fields where Admire and Actigard were not used, Moore says. "There seems to be a lower presence of thrips this year."

Neonicotinoids are taking a lot of heat over alleged environmental problems, with a ban on outdoor spraying likely soon in the EU. If that sentiment spreads here, Admire could certainly be threatened. That would be a problem, Moore says, because none of the other alternatives are as effective in the suppression of tomato spotted wilt virus.

What effect will the exit of AOI have on the burley market? Daniel Green, c.e.o. of the Burley Stabilization cooperative, thinks acreage in Tennessee, the most affected state will at most be 10,000 acres and maybe less. For all burley states, he estimates 65,000 acres. Little  burley has been transplanted so far.

Dark down: An early production estimate of the 2018 fire-cured crop provided by Hail & Cotton leaf dealer indicated that about 50 million pounds will be the volume,1.5 million pounds less than a year ago. The acreage for this type is projected at 15,625, 1,000 acres less than last year. The same estimate for dark air-cured tobacco is 14 million pounds, about 1.2 million pounds less than in 2017. Acreage is projected down 14 percent--714 acres to 5,000.

The effect Chinese tariffs might have on American tobacco is very difficult to estimate, but whatever the effect, it won't be good, the dealer says. "Even if the tariffs are slow developing, they could cause us some losses just because of the uncertainty," he says. "The situation seems certain to benefit Brazil."

Speaking of Brazil...The current flue-cured crop, just harvested and now being marketed, appears to be heading to 1.28 million pounds, about 77 million pounds less that in 2017, according to the leaf dealer Hail & Cotton. Brazil also grows burley, and the current crop is estimated at 154 million pounds, down 24 million pounds from 2017.


  • The Georgia-Florida Tobacco Tour will take place June 11-13, beginning with a 7 p.m. Kick-Off Supper at Brown Lantern Restaurant, Live Oak, Florida, June 11.