Greenhouse plant clipping looms on the horizon for many farmers, as it does in this file photo of a worker at Cross Creek Seed in Raeford, N.C.
Leaf production in a pandemic: On Monday, it was stated that the American consulate in Mexico would be shut down, meaning that H2As would be destined for the U.S. could not be processed. That would have been a disaster for American growers. But negotiations since appear to indicate that the consulate will remain open for processing of workers with a history of H2A work here, although new applicants may not be considered. This situation, like everything connected with coronavirus, could change, but at the moment, it appears that legal migrant workers will be available this season.
Notes on plant production from selected states:
--In Kentucky, plant production in greenhouses is well on its way, says Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "Probably 60 percent to 70 percent are complete. Some of the plants are up and looking good, but most are two-leaf stage or less."
--In South Carolina, grower Ben Teal of Patrick said on March 18 that his plants in the greenhouse were in fine condition and that he would start transplanting soon. But he will definitely plant less acreage. "I would love to have 20 or 25 acres," he said. "I have had as much as 80 acres."
--In North Caro-lina as well, the plant season has gone well, says Matthew Vann, tobacco special-ist. He is sure there will be enough plants for this crop. "Transplanting is probably two or three weeks away from be-ginning, and when it does, it will probably begin in the southeastern part of the state."
The Extension Service is committed to supplying farmers with the information they need, but thanks to the pandemic, the modus operandi is changing a bit. "Instead of making farm visits, we are communicating with text messages, email and telephone," says Vann. "That reduces the chance of accidental transmission of this disease."
Case in point: A farmer needed advice on a condition in his float plants. Vann arranged for the farmer to bring a tray to Raleigh, leave it in a sheltered space, and Vann went there later, picked it up, and diagnosed the problem. Social distancing was maintained.
Bottom line: The Extension tobacco specialists haven't given up on tobacco farmers. Don't give up on them.
The remaining GAP farmer training meetings have been canceled. But there may be some rescheduling if some form could be found that complies with current regulations. Watch this space in future issues to find out more.
Coronavirus is everywhere: The CEO of Altria, Howard Williard, tested positive for COVID-19 in mid March, along with another Altria employee. As a result, Altria temporarily suspended operations at PM USA's Manufacturing Center in Richmond, Va., for an expected two weeks. Also, Altria's cigar-making subsidiary--John Middleton--announced suspension of domestic operations for two weeks due to the effect of COVID-19 on the company's supply chain. But British American Tobacco reported only "limited impact" from COVID-19 as of March 18. It had no plans to cease operating any of its facilities.
REPORT FROM OVERSEAS
The largest cigarette makers in Brazil--British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International--will apparently be forced to defend themselves in a lawsuit in Brazil over compensation for smoking-related diseases, 22 years after the similar litigation in the U.S. For about a year, the companies have refused to accept subpoenas connected with the lawsuit delivered to their local subsidiaries sent by the Brazilian solicitor general's office, maintaining they are subsidiaries only and directing notifications directly to their parent companies' headquarters in Britain and the United States. But the federal judge hearing the case ruled that the companies are the operational wings of the parent companies and fully capable of relaying the notifications to their head offices. She gave them 30 days to present their defenses.
One of our readers makes this comment on the Malawi leaf situation:
Malawi produces a filler style burley, compared to U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Guate-mala who produce flavor bur-ley. So the effect of events in Malawi (notably the exclusion of its leaf from the American market because of child labor infractions) will not be as great as they might have been.
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A South Georgia farmer preps his land for planting. (File photo).
Setting kicks off: One flue-cured grower in Florida began setting plants Wednesday and another started today, says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist. "They're happy with the quality of the plants and are looking forward to continuing to plant through the weekend and next week." In Georgia, soil conditions are improving with some growers applying Telone II now, he says. "Some transplanting will be starting in two weeks in Georgia."
Flue-cured contracting in North Carolina is not finished yet, and this is creating quite a quandary for growers who must hold back on seeding some greenhouses even though seeding is well under way. Most of the uncertainty seems to be coming from the export market. The two major domestic companies--Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds--reportedly were contracting actively at the beginning of the year and may in fact have finished contracting by now. Their contracted acreage is believed to be slightly higher than 2019 . But there is no clear message from leaf dealers.
Much of N.C.'s crop was seeded at the end of February, which is normal, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Exten-sion tobacco specialist. "We've had a really good season so far. We might get some set out by the first week of April. That would be in the southeastern part of the state. Unless we get a cold snap or it gets really wet, we should have a good crop of plants to take to the field."
The search to cut costs: For Butch Glasscock, a flue-cured grower in Amelia Court House Va., west of Richmond, there is only one place he can cut costs in 2020. "That's labor. We are going to try to go with four workers this season instead of five," he says. "That's my plan anyway." Glascock harvests by hand, but mechanization isn't an option because of his scale of operation: He had 50 acres last year and hopes to plant at least that much this season.
End of an era for dark? The dark tobacco sector of the U.S. leaf industry is taking a hit as a result of declining smokeless tobacco sales. This development follows more than two decades of sales growth, said Will Snell, Kentucky Extension tobacco economist, in the Kentucky Agricultural Economic Situation and Outlook. How much has it fallen? USDA estimated that production of the three dark types grown in the U.S. fell nearly 18 percent from 2018 (85 million pounds) to 2019 (70 million pounds).
Profit margins in Kentucky continue to be squeezed by higher labor costs coupled with limited yield gains and stagnant leaf prices, resulting in continued concentration of growers, said Snell. Despite lower production, leaf prices are not expected to change much from last year's levels, given contract price levels and some curing quality issues for burley, he said. "Overall, Kentucky tobacco cash receipts will likely fall below $300 million for 2019, compared to averaging $356 million over the past five years." Lower tobacco production may move the sector to more balanced supply/demand levels this year, he said. "[That] may result in fairly stable contract volumes for the coming year," he said.
A new tobacco specialist in South Carolina:Matt Inman has been named Clemson Extension tobacco specialist. He has served as Extension Associate in tobacco at N.C. State University for five years and earned a PhD there. He is stationed at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center at Florence. South Carolina has been without a state tobacco specialist since the passing of Dewitt Gooden in 2015.
13 percent shortfall in Zimbabwe: Flue-cured production in Zimbabwe was projected in an early February estimate to be down 13 percent from the record high production in 2019. This crop has suffered from extremely hot weather. "The earliest estimate of the crop is approximately 225 kilogrammes (about 500 million pounds)," Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chairperson Patrick Devenish told the ZimEye news organization. "Although the irrigated crop is very good in quality, the dryland crop suffered the effects of drought and also the planting season began late because of the late onset of the rainy season. The irrigated crop is of very good quality and the dry land crop--not all of it but quite a lot of it--is suffering as a result of drought. It needs a bit of rain." The auction market had been expected to open in mid March but has been delayed because of the lateness of the crop.
GAP TRAINING MEETINGS THRU MID MARCH
Mar 16, 6 pm, Lafayette, TN
Mar 23, 9 am. Turbotville, PA
Mar 24, 9 am. New Holland, PA
Mar 24, 1 pm. New Holland, PAMar 25, 9 am. Quarryville, PA