Thursday, August 20, 2020


A migrant crew tops flue-cured near Winston-Salem, N.C. 
Photo by Chris Bickers.

An uneven crop made it difficult for N.C. flue-cured growers to decide when to top, sucker, and spray, and now it is confusing harvesting decisions. "Nevertheless, harvest is well under way," says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. "A great many of our growers have harvested their lugs and cutters. But there are still a few fields that have not come into full flower in the western part of the Old Belt."

The cool early season and intense July heat lead to lateness in most of the N.C. flue-cured crop, says Vann. "It is fairly green in places. Take care in harvesting ripe leaf so you can put good quality on the floor." It is much to be hoped that the first frost is not too early, but that seems to be the hope every season these days.

The crop is coming off fast in South Carolina, says Matthew Inman, S.C. Extension specialist. "Sixty to seventy percent has been harvested, and farmers are struggling to stay ahead. I have seen one farmer harvest once, and then was forced to strip the rest in one pass." Inman suspects that the tobacco in his state will weigh a little light this year. "A lot of our tobacco has weak root systems," he says.

A late note: TFN may have underplayed the damage in S.C. from Hurricane Isaias in its last number. (See "S.C. escapes damage from Isaias," August I 2020.) "We here in Horry County had a lot of damage--leaf blown off the stalk and blown down and three to four inches of rain," wrote farmer Dwight Stevens of Loris.

A good burley crop appears to be developing in Kentucky, says Bob Pearce, Extension tobacco specialist. "We have a fair-looking crop just now. We have some really good-looking fields but in other areas not so good. The variability is as high as I can remember. But on average it is a good crop." 

Harvest has started in Kentucky, says Pearce, and not just by a few here and there. "Some tobacco is going to the barn." Still, it is a little behind at this point. "Almost all of our tobacco was planted a little late because of the cool wet spring." From here on, Pearce urges growers to stay aware of curing conditions. "Get your leaf to cure up to its potential," he says.
USDA says: Production down 20 percent: All tobacco production in the United States is forecast at 372.3 million pounds, down 20 percent from 2019, according to USDA's August Crop Production report. Both flue-cured and burley are projected down by double-digit percentage points, as is fire-cured. The small Southern Maryland crop is down a whopping 65 percent. Dark air-cured and Pennsylvania seedleaf are roughly the same. The drop in estimated production is due almost entirely to reduced plantings: Yields for most types are comparable to last season. 

Projections by type--Flue-cured: 224.2 million pounds, down 24 percent.  Burley: 77.3 million pounds, down 16 percent. Fire-cured: 39.1 million pounds, down 13 percent. Dark air cured: 24.6 million pounds, no change. Southern Maryland belt: 800,000 pounds, down 65 percent. Pennsylvania seedleaf: 5.52 million pounds, no change. United States: 372.3 million pounds, down 20 percent.
Auctions begin next week: Two auction warehouses plan to hold opening sales on August 26. They are Horizon Ltd., 1723 Goldsboro St. So., Wilson, N.C. (Contact Kenneth Kelly at 252 292 8822) and American Tobacco Exchange, 2101 Miller Rd., Wilson, NC.  (Contact auction manager Tommy Faulkner at 910 58 5 2708.) Two more expect to announce open-ing dates soon. They are Old Belt Tobacco Sales, 1395 Old Belt Way, Rural Hall, N.C. (Contact Dennis White at 336 416 6262 or the warehouse switchboard at 336 969 6891) and Coastal Piedmont Auction, 1291 Johnston Parkway, Kenly, N.C. (Contact Mickey Pegram at 270 932 1830, Roger Stanley at 919 628 9075 or the office at 919 284 0504.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

S.C. ESCAPES DAMAGE FROM ISAIASA flue-cured grower in the Piedmont of North Carolina revs up his mechanical harvester.

No significant issues resulted from Hurricane Isaias in South Carolina. "We had a one inch rain last night in Florence which is not as much as was predicted," says Matthew Inman, S.C. Extension specialist. Most S.C. farmers had harvested their crops at least once by the time the hurricane arrived. "We will be light on our lugs," he says. "Many are not being harvested."  The big issue now is poor root systems, thanks to heat in June. "The plants have struggled to handle the heat."

A late note: It looks like TFN jumped the gun in its report on hurricane damage in S.C. A reader wrote, "We here in Horry County [S.C.] had a lot of damage--leaf blown off the stalk and blown down and three to four inches of rain," said farmer Dwight Stevens.

Harvested so far: According to USDA's Crop Progress Report, Georgia has harvested 45 percent of its crop, South Carolina 41 percent, North Carolina 16 percent and Virginia 19 percent. No harvest of burley is known to have taken place.

The consequences of the coming dissolution of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association are not yet clear. But the Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader newspaper estimated that if 4,000 grower-members turn out to be eligible to receive a share of the money, liquidating investments and selling assets might bring in a total of about $28 million. That would be paid out evenly to farmers who were members between 2015 and 2019. "A pot of $28 million would mean about $7,000 each," the newspaper said.

There is still room for tobacco in Kentucky's economy, says Al Pedigo, a burley grower from Scottsville, Ky., and current president of BTGCA. "But after 100 years, the cooperative found it hard to find a place for itself."

One leading Kentucky grower, who requested anonymity, told Tobacco Farmer Newsletter that this may be his last year in burley. In recent years he has grown as much as 200 acres but is down to 15 for 2020. It might get down to zero next year. But he won't exit tobacco--he will continue to grow dark air-cured. The relationship between growers and buyers is better for dark than for burley, he says.

Cover crops are not traditionally used in tobacco production. Why is that? There are concerns with unpre-dictability of nitrogen supply and the possibility that extended N minera-lization might compromise the quality of the cured tobacco leaf, says Alex Woodley of the N.C. State Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. "Our re-search did not support these concerns and found evidence supporting the potential use of cover-crop N as a cost-effective management strategy in the production of flue-cured tobacco." See more details from Woodley and from other N.C. State University tobacco specialists at

  • KENTUCKY: Farmers finally saw some reprieve from intense summer heat as cooler temperatures and precipitation moved in, relieving a moderate drought. Tobacco is doing fairly well with 55 percent of the crop in good condition, and 64 percent blooming and 40 percent topped.
  • TENNESSEE: Welcome rain improved overall crop conditions in East Tennessee. Before, the crop was suffering from heat. Statewide, 63 percent of the crop had been topped.
  • NORTH CAROLINA: Farmers prepared for the arrival of tropical storm system Isaias. That included tobacco harvest, according to a report from Craven County. Shortly before the storm, excessive heat and low soil moisture in most areas slowed crop growth. Tobacco harvest continued in Robeson County as Isaias approached. Crops have benefited so far from scattered showers across the county. 
  • SOUTH CAROLINA: 82 percent had been topped.
  • GEORGIA: Tobacco was being harvested. Some drought pressure was apparent.
  • VIRGINIA: 19 per cent of the crop had been harvested.
--August 26--Horizon Ltd., 1723 Goldsboro St. So., Wilson, N.C. Live & silent auctions. Contact Kenneth Kelly at 252 292 8822.
--August 26-American Tobacco Exchange, 2101 Miller Rd., Wilson, NC. Live auction, 9 a.m. Contact auction manager Tommy Faulkner at 910 585 2708.
--Opening Date to be Announced--Old Belt Tobacco Sales, 1395 Old Belt Way, Rural Hall, N.C. Live auctions. Flue-cured and burley will be sold. Contact Dennis White at 336 416 6262 or the warehouse switchboard at 336 969 6891.

Good crop in Zambia: Through July 7, flue-cured growers in Zambia had sold 20.6 million kilos at an average price of US$ 2.55 per kilo. Burley growers had sold 4.5 million kilos at an average price of 1.64 per kilo. Total volume for all tobacco types was 25.1 million kilos.