Opening sales took place this week for most of the flue-cured auction warehouses, and the prices offered were not encouraging. Best quality lugs generally about $1.20 per pound. Contrast that to the scene in this photo, taken at a sale at the Old Belt auction in Rural Hall (near Winston-Salem, N.C.) in the relatively "good old days" of 2012. Best quality lugs brought around $1.60 at auction at the first sale that year. Identifiable along the line are sales leader Bill Jessup (left), auctioneer Chuck Jordan (second from left) and Brent Tilley of Vaughn Tobacco (right). The Old Belt warehouse holds its first sale next Tuesday at 10 a.m.
THIS IS A GOOD FLUE-CURED CROP, says Rick Smith, president of Independent Leaf Tobacco, a leaf dealer in Wilson, N.C. "The tobacco coming out of the barn looks better than expected. There is some very useable downstalk tobacco in it."
Unfortunately, that was not the message the market was sending when auction warehouses opened on August 22. One very disgruntled warehouseman (who asked to remain anonymous), said buyers clearly don't want to buy lugs from this crop. "The highest price for lugs I saw was $1.20, and that was for really good leaf. Plain X tobacco was bringing around 80 cents."
Is China buying or not? The impression among dealers was that the Chinese have decided to honor their contracts with US Tobacco Cooperative and some individual growers it has previously contracted with. But they have been lead to expect that there will be no other Chinese purchases of U.S. flue-cured this year.
First it was wet in N.C. Then it was dry. Now it is too wet again. "For the past three or four weeks, it seems we have always had rain (in eastern N.C.)," says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "It has slowed harvest because we can't get into the field." Also, the rain has caused the crop to "green up." "It is going to be a challenge to get what we need to get done in August. The crop might come off all at one time. But there is time to finish what we need to finish if it will stop raining. We need drying time. All told, we still have the possibility of a good crop."
Most growers in the East are probably about one to three weeks behind schedule, says Vann. In the N.C. Piedmont, rain caused more of a delay in transplanting, so farmers there may be more like two to four weeks behind. Even though there have been several years recently when the first killing frost was later than usual, you have to assume that first frost will fall around October 10. A crop that is still green at that time could be a big problem.
It's been wet in Kentucky too. "There's been a long stretch of unsettled weather," says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "We have had a lot of rain. It hasn't been solid--more off and on--but it has been enough to slow our harvest. And we have had so much humidity that it may compromise the curing." He recommends managing your cure for good airflow and especially get a good spacing of stalks on the stick. "And do everything you can to get the crop harvested as quickly as possible."
County and regional reports:
In Southeast N.C., the tobacco crop has by and large benefited from recent rainfall, says Tyler Whaly, N.C. Department of Agriculture agronomist for the region including Sampson County. "[It] has allowed for additional growth and leaf expansion of middle and upperstalk positions." Now, soilborne and foliar diseases have become a major issue due to extended periods of leaf wetness and additional pathogen movement through the soil. "Most growers are behind in harvesting. It will be very challenging to save the crop due to limited barn space and rapid deterioration in the field."
In the N.C. Piedmont, the tobacco crop is highly variable based on timing of rain, says Brandon Poole, NCDA agronomist for Region 8 which includes Guilford, Granville and other Piedmont counties. "Tobacco that was planted on time seems to be the best in the region for yield and quality. The late-planted crop is short, and quality is poor on lower stalk position leaves, but recent rainfall has helped in filling out upperstalk leaves"...In general, the crop looks good in Lee County, N.C. (south-west of Raleigh), says Zachary Taylor, county Extension agent. "[But] some fields greened up with recent rains and will be very late ripening. Frost may be a concern before all of the crop is in the barn."
In the Piedmont of Virginia, dark tobacco harvest in Appomattox County is under way on many farms. "It is progressing well between the rainy days," says Bruce Jones, Extension tobacco agent. "Topping continues on burley."
In Western N.C., topping is beginning on the burley crop. "Drier weather was a welcome change," says Stanley Holloway, Yancey County Extension agent, near Asheville. "Most areas received only a trace to 0.25 inches of rain last week. Temperatures were cooler with highs mainly in the upper 70s to lower 80's and lows mainly in the mid to upper 50s."
USDA Crop Report: Flue-cured down, burley way down. The first projection of the full 2018 crop by USDA agency National Agricultural Statistics Service's (NASS) indicated that burley production in the United States as of August 1 is expected to total 133 million pounds, down 17 percent from last year. Flue-cured tobacco production is expected to total 430 million pounds, down seven percent from 2017. Among the types and producing states:
FLUE-CURED: North Carolina--331.8 million pounds, down 7.47 percent. Virginia--50.6 million pounds, no change. Georgia--26.25 million pounds, no change. South Carolina--21.6 million pounds, 14.2 percent.
BURLEY: Kentucky--104.5, down 19 percent. Tennessee--15.3 million pounds, down 15 percent. Pennsylvania--10 million pounds, down 3.3 percent. Virginia--1,800 million pounds, down 18.1 percent. North Carolina--1.36, down 5.5 percent.
FIRE-CURED: 54.7 million pounds down 7.9 percent.
DARK AIR-CURED: 19.6 million pounds, down 2.7 percent.
SOUTHERN MARYLAND: 3,360 million pounds, 22.2 percent.
PENNSYLVANIA SEEDLEAF: 5.76 million pounds, up 3.3 percent.
How much flue-cured has been harvested? USDA estimates that by August 20, 77 percent of the Georgia crop had been harvested compared to 45 percent in South Carolina; 41 percent in North Carolina crop, and 39 percent in Virginia. Florida wasn't included but it was presumed 100 percent.
Our first sale will take place August 28 at 10 a.m.
You saw a lot of this in eastern N.C. in July: A farmer knocks trashy bottom leaves off his flue-cured using a mechanical delugger during the hot, dry spell in July. "In a year like this one, it was a good tool to have," says Bryant Lancaster of Lancaster Farms near Stantonsburg, N. C. "It eliminates a good portion of trashy lower leaves that we had because of the bad weather." But since this picture was taken on July 17, Lancaster's farm has gotten considerable rain.
Harvest is going on at full speedin Florida and Georgia, although farmers are having to work around showers, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist. Floridians may be finished by the end of next week. Georgians aren't that far along, although Moore says that harvest of the crop at the research station in Tifton should be finished next Wednesday. The availability of labor has been a major problem for Georgia-Florida tobacco this year, he says.
How far has harvest gotten in the flue-cured states? According to the USDA agency National Agricultural Statistics Service, through July 29: Georgia farmers had harvested 54 percent of its crop; South Carolina, 21 percent, North Carolina (flue), 17 percent harvested, and Virginia (flue), 11 percent. No burley had been harvested by that date, NASS said, but Kentucky growers have topped 33 percent of their burley and Tennessee 50 percent.
The marketing season got off to an encouraging start when U.S. Tobacco Cooperative began taking deliveries at its Georgia marketing center in Nashville last week. "All stalk positions were represented, and overall, the deliveries look pretty good.," says Moore.
Recent rains have improved conditions in eastern North Carolina. "But there are isolated areas that have received too much rain, negatively affecting tobacco," says Don Nicholson, N.C. Department of Agriculture regional agronomist. North of Raleigh, Franklin County is finally receiving much-needed rains, says Charles Mitchell, Franklin County Extension agent. "But for some fields of tobacco, it is too late," he added.
The certainties about burley marketingin 2018, according toDon Fowlkes, agronomy manager for the Burley Stabilization Corporation. "Red-leaf style burley tobacco is in
demand in the market-place. Quality is the key to having a product that buyers want. Yield is the key to being profitable, and both quality and yield are necessary for staying in business."
When should you cut burley? Cutting early sacri-fices yield. Cutting late sacrifices quality and fre-quently yield. "In most years for most varieties, early means before three to four weeks after topping and late means more than five to seven weeks after," says Fowlkes. Five weeks is a reasonable average target. "Certainly, let most crops stand at least four weeks, Fowlkes says.
The best dark tobacco crop since 2014? Despite a shortage of plants, the dark tobaccos of western Kentucky and Tennessee are looking very good right now, and a better than average yield seems quite possible, says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. It has benefited by timely rains.
About 70 percent of the crop has been topped as of the end of July. Some dark tobacco that is grown for cigar wrapper has been harvested, but for most other plantings, harvest is at least two weeks away.
Dicamba problem in dark: At least 300 acres of dark have been contaminated by dicamba in fields close to dicamba-resistant soybeans. Bailey says this tobacco is unmarketable. He
thinks the problem was not so much due to physical drift by the chemical but rather to temperature inversions from dicamba applica-tions made to soybeans in late June and July.
A new foliar spray for target spot: According to California manufacture Marrone Bio, Stargus Biofungicide provides target spot control when applied at a rate of two to three quarts per acre, by itself or in a tank mix with Quadris. It is also registered for blue mold control, sprayed on at a rate of four quarts per acre as soon as symptoms appear. It has a short re-entry time of four hours and is approved for use on organic tobacco.
DATES TO REMEMBER:
August 9, 5:30 p.m. Dark Tobacco Twilight Tour at the West Farm, Murray State University, in Murray, Ky.
August 13, 1 p.m. The Kentucky Burley Tobacco Industry Tour will be held on August 13 and 14, starting at 1 p.m. on the 13th at the University of Kentucky Spindletop Research Farm in Lexington. On the 14th, the tour will return to Spindletop at 8 a.m. and travel to research and demonstration plots in Central Kentucky.