Extremely wet conditions made for wilted burley in this central Kentucky tobacco field earlier this summer

Extremely wet conditions made for wilted burley in this central Kentucky tobacco field earlier this summer.

Burley tobacco swamped: Even driest land faces major yield losses

Wet, Kentucky weather hurt the state's burley tobacco crop in 2015. Even on the driest land, farmers experienced significant yield loss ranging from a 10 percent to 25 percent.

Much of Kentucky took a heavy hit from rain in mid-summer, especially in the first two weeks of July. Several crops were damaged, and perhaps the most severely damaged was tobacco.

“Farmers from one end of the state to the other have had it too wet,” said Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek, Ky., on July 20. Central and eastern Kentucky suffered the most. “It would be possible for the crop to recover some if the weather is good, but a major turnaround from this point would be required.”

Even on the driest land, farmers have experienced significant yield loss, he said. The estimates range from a 10 percent to 15 percent to even a 25 percent yield reduction.

The rain fell almost daily in much of the state, said Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. “At one location it was reported to have fallen 14 out of the first 15 days of July,” he said. “Some of the crop may recover if the weather improves, but as a whole, it is not likely to regain its full potential.”

Additional nitrogen was probably not going to help much, but if leafspot diseases appear, Pearce recommends an application of Quadris at eight ounces per acre.

A burley tobacco grower in Maysville, Ky., said on July 20 the weather for tobacco had been very bad in his area. “I think we have had around 15 inches of rain in the last month. A measurable amount of acres have gone down from all of the rain.”

The progress of much of the local tobacco crop had been interfered with. “We have 60 acres,” the Maysville farmer said. “We finished setting June 17. (Since then,) it has been three weeks since we were able to get in the field. We were not able to cultivate 30 acres for a month.”

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported July 20 that tobacco condition in Kentucky was declining due to excess water, wind damage and disease pressure. Only 58 percent rated as good to excellent in condition, compared to 67 percent the previous week.

The rains extended to other burley states to some degree. A report from the Extension Service in Smith County, Tenn., east of Nashville, said tobacco was hurt in some places from too much water.

In Robertson County, Tenn., northwest of Nashville, topping was progressing well through July 19, said Extension agent Paul Hart. Just to the south, in Cheatham County, harvest began on some early set dark-fired tobacco that same week, said Ronnie Barron, Extension agent.

The dark-tobacco-producing area of Kentucky-Tennessee experienced heavy rains too, especially from the end of June through July 10. But it has since turned dry and there is considerable heat and humidity.

There have been instances of saturated soils, wet feet and some drowning, said Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist. "We may have suffered as much as a 10 percent loss in production so far, but some of it could be recovered." 

On the other hand, crops on the better drained soils that didn't get too much rain looked good in mid-July, Bailey said.

There was more late-planted tobacco in this crop than normal so the tobacco was small when the rain fell,” he said. “So it probably recovered faster.”

In some areas there were heavy winds that left the stalks crooked. “That may make it difficult to use rundown application of sucker control chemicals," he said.

Drought hits flue-cured states

In the flue-cured states, drought was more of a problem through mid-summer than excess rain.

In eastern North Carolina, the flue-cured crop was about two weeks behind schedule as of July 15, said Matthew Vann, North Carolina Extension tobacco specialist. Farmers were just getting into harvest. Much still remains to be topped.

In Greene County, Extension Agent Roy Thagard said, “I expect all growers have begun priming lower stalk tobacco by this time.”

In the Piedmont, a little harvesting is just starting. “Tobacco producers are making the first cutting and overall tobacco looks very good,” said Person County Extension agent Gary Cross.

In Cleveland County, N.C., growth is good, said Stephen Bishop of the Cleveland County NRCS office. "Growers in the southern part of the county had been irrigating crops for over two weeks until they received rainfall (last) week," he said.

In Surry County, near Mount Airy, it was reported that the crop looked good after 0.6 inch of rain on July 14.

In Georgia, rains that fell the week of July 5 came in the nick of time. Coffee County Extension agent Mark von Waldner said, "Very timely rain fell this week. There is some sunscald and more black shank disease than normal."

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