Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Hustling to beat the hurricanes: Workers hustle to get flue-cured leaf in barns in Wake County, N.C. (File photo by Chris Bickers)
With Florence bearing down, many of the flue-cured growers along the Atlantic Coast faced intense weather conditions with significant tobacco still in the field. Georgia might dodge the bullet since the path of the storm is expected to pass by it, and most of its crop has been harvested already (95 percent as of September 9, according to USDA). But South Carolina still had 10 percent unharvested, Virginia 35 percent, and in North Carolina, Extension specialist Matthew Vann reckons that 40 to 45 percent of the fields still have enough tobacco in them to be negatively affected by Florence.

And the effect can be severe, Vann says. "You can expect heavy rains and very strong winds, and that will cause leaf whipping," he says. "It appears that we can expect at least a three-or-four-day wind. With the intensity of the conditions expected, the leaf is going to ripen extremely fast." To make matters worse, it has been coming off fast the last few weeks, and Vann feels most growers are already maxed out on barn space...What to do? Well, in the short term, the goal should be to minimize the leaf you lose as a result of electrical failure during the cure. Grant Ellington, Extension agricultural engineer at N.C. State, provided an excellent set of recommendations a few storms ago. I am going to print it below in hopes it will help you prepare for the worst.
Curing Tips
Should adverse weather cause the loss of electrical current to the tobacco curing barn and a backup generator is not available, listed below are some tips that are recommended in order to minimize leaf damage.

For tobacco that is being cured, the damage that might be sustained is related to the stage of cure when the power is lost and the condition of the tobacco when it is loaded into the barn. Tobacco that is in the very early or late stages of curing generally fairs the best when the power is out for extended periods. The following guidelines are useful when generator capacity is limited or not available:
  • Yellowing (95 degrees WB/100 degrees DB) - about 24 hours - This period can be extended if the tobacco can be cooled to near outside temperatures before power outage occurs or as soon as possible after the outage occurs. Thereafter, the heat should be flushed every hour if the generator capacity is not sufficient to continue the cure normally. If a generator is not available, all air vents and doors should be opened to allow as much heat as possible to escape.
  • Late yellowing/early leaf drying (105 degrees WB/105-115 degrees DB) - about 6 hours - This is the most critical period for damage and the tobacco should be cooled as soon as possible by any means available, with the heat being flushed every hour as suggested above. If sufficient generator capacity is not available and your area is expecting severe damage, tobacco that would be in this stage of curing during a prolonged power outage might be more profitable to the grower if it had not harvested.
  • Leaf drying (105 degrees WB/120-135 DB) - about 24 hours - Extend the safe period by cooling as suggested above. Stem drying (110 degrees WB/150 degrees + DB) - several days - Attention to these barns can be delayed in order to provide attention to barns in the earliest stages of curing.
Barn Loading Considerations
Damage to tobacco during power outages is usually more severe in boxes than racks and particularly when containers are not loaded uniformly or loaded with wet tobacco. Therefore, tobacco harvested between now and the time the threat is passed should be harvested dry, loaded uniformly, and perhaps the containers should be loaded lighter than normal in order to maximize air movement and cooling potential should a power outage occur.
Don't forget about your greenhouses.  "Roll up curtains tight and secure doors," says Norman Harrell, Extension director in Wilson County, N.C. "If we lose power, you need to have backup power for the greenhouses to keep the plastic layers fully inflated." 
In East Tennessee, 2018 is beginning to look like a better-than-average season. "We have a good-looking crop," says Don Fowlkes, Agronomy Manager, Burley Stabilization Corporation. "There were the normal seasonal challenges, but now it appears that we have decent weight and the outlook for good quality also." At least half has been harvested and curing has gone well. Growers got a break in the first few weeks of curing. "It has beenunusually hot the past two or three weeks, but we have had good humidity so the tobacco hasn't cured too fast." Fowlkes has hopes that this crop may have plenty of the reddish color that buyers are looking for.

In Kentucky, a fairly dark color seems on the way too, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension toba-cco specialist. So far, there hasn't been significant flash curing. Like Tennessee, Kentucky has plenty of humidity. Maybe too much. Pearce fears there may be a problem of houseburn. Some Kentuckians got rain from Tropical Storm Gordon, but there hasn't been much rain since Sunday, Pearce says. "But it continues cloudy. We have had no sunshine for some time." More than half the Kentucky burley crop has been harvested, says Pearce.  "But not much more."

The September USDA Crop Report was released at noon. Flue-cured tobacco production is expected to total 415 million pounds, the report says, down 10 percent from 2017. Burley tobacco production is expected to total 129 million pounds, down 20 percent from last year. Production projections by type and by state for flue-cured and burley follow.
  • Flue-cured: North Carolina--322 million pounds, down 10.2 percent. Virginia--48.4 million pounds, down 4.3 percent. Georgia 22.5 million pounds, down 14.2 percent. South Carolina--21.600 million pounds, down 14.2 percent.                                                               
  • Burley: Kentucky--106 million pounds million pounds, down 17.9 percent. Tennessee 10.200 million pounds, down 43.3 percent. North Carolina--1.360 million pounds, down 15.2 percent. Pennsylvania--10 million pounds, down 3.3 percent. Virginia--1.8 million pounds, down 18.1 percent.
  • Fire-cured: 57.772 million pounds, down 2.9 percent.        
  • Dark air-cured: 26.1 million pounds, up 29.5 percent.
  • Pennsylvania seedleaf: 5.76 million pounds, up 33.3 percent.         
  • Southern Maryland: 3.2 million pounds, down 25.4 percent.
Note--The only types that (according to USDA) increased in production over 2017 are dark air-cured and Pennsylvania seedleaf, neither of which is used in cigarettes.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018


This tobacco was offered for sale in a live auction last Wednesday at the American Tobacco Exchange in Wilson, N.C. Sales continue today at ATE, Horizon Tobacco and Big M Warehouse, all in Wilson. Live auctions are conducted at Old Belt Sales in Rural Hall, N.C., on Tuesdays.

The market for flue-cured lugs has improved slightly in the last two weeks. The ware-housemen I have talked to are confident that all sound tobacco that is offered at auction, including lugs, will find a buyer. "But it will be at a price," Kenneth Kelly of Horizon Tobacco in Wilson, N.C., told me. "This season all our buyers are very price conscious."

Two warehouses--Horizon and American Tobacco Exchange--are offering live auctions every Wednesday till the end of the season. Horizon is also offering silent auctions, as is Big M Warehouse of Wilson. Why? "We decided to meet the demand of the farmers," says Kelly. "We are offering live and silent auctions now, and we will see which commands the most interest over the season." He thinks some of the desire by farmers for a live auction is based on sentiment, on getting back to the old days. Others have said the live auctions are more

transparent. But Kelly finds this belief unconvincing. "Silent auc-tions are just as transparent. If one of my customers wants to know something about the sale, all he has to do is ask me."

How long will the flue-cured auction season last? In the last few years, Horizon has held its last sales in November, but Kelly is worried that this crop won't last that long. "It is ripening at a very fast pace here (around Wilson)."

In the Piedmont of North Carolina, the crop seems to be improving at the Old Belt Sales warehouse in Rural Hall near Winston-Salem. "We had a good sale Tuesday," said Dennis White, owner of the warehouse. "Throwaway lugs were still bringing 80 cents a pound. But lugs with color and body were selling for $1.10 a pound, and if they were orange, $1.25 to $1.30." A few leaf grades were sold at $1.90. "They were sold too early. Those grades will bring more later." A few cutter grades went for $1.75 to $1.80. Old Belt Sales will conduct an auction every Tuesday for the duration of the season.

Reports from the field

Coastal Plain: Growers are pushing to get tobacco out of the field in Robeson County, says Mac Malloy, Extension agent. "Conditions remain dry and rain would be welcome," he says...In the counties around Raleigh, Smithfield and Wilson. Farmers are also in need of a rain, says Don Nicholson, NC Department of Agriculture agronomist. "Tobacco growers are attempting to fill every available curing barn to save as much of the crop as possible," he says...In Craven County, harvest is proceeding quickly due to rapid leaf decay, says Mike Carroll, Extension agent. He earlier reported "wildly variable" crop conditions. "As example, we have fields of tobacco completely harvested, yet there are fields yet to be harvested at all.

Piedmont: The area around Winston-Salem could produce a very good quality crop, says Dennis White [see above], but it may not be real heavy. "We had good weather most of the season, but recently we have had 10 days of 90-degree weather. So it may not weigh a lot. But

it looks to be on the overripe side"...Close to Virginia, soil moistures have increased thanks to recent rainfall, says Caswell County Extension agent Joey Knight. Caswell borders Virginia and is quite close to Danville. Tobacco growers are getting only light weights on tobacco that was planted late. "Early planted tobacco [however] is looking great with good yields. The X and C grades are already harvested," Knight says... In the Virginia Piedmont, Bruce Jones, Extension agent in Appomattox County, says that much of the county received in excess of one inch of rainfall on September 1. "This week will be busy with dark tobacco harvesting and curing," he says.

Mountains: Torrential rains in some areas of Smyth County [Va.] and surrounding counties have resulted in isolated damage to rural roads and fields, says Andy Overbay, Extension agent. "Continued wet weather has damaged the [burley] tobacco crop, but with harvest fast approaching those issues should be contained"... Rainfall from one weekend storm in late August ranged from four to eight inches, says Stanley Holloway, Yancey County [N.C.] agent. "Limited field work [was done] due to wet soils. Crop stage and conditions vary incredibly due to total accumulation of rainfall over the past few weeks." But a relatively dry week through September 2 allowed for some progress in the field.

How much flue-cured has been harvested? As of September 4, USDA estimated that 91 percent of the Georgia crop, 70 percent of the South Carolina crop, 58 percent of the North Carolina crop and 58 percent of the Virginia crop had been harvested.

And burley: 41 percent of the Kentucky crop, 35 percent of the Tennessee crop and 19 percent of the North Carolina crop had been harvested. In Pennsylvania, where three types--including burley--are grown, 69 percent of all types had been harvested. In Kentucky, 84 percent of the Kentucky crop had been topped.

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