Kentucky tobacco crop floods

A two-inch flash flood in 30 minutes covers young tobacco in Clark County, Kentucky, in early July. Much of Kentucky’s burley growing regions received eight to 10 inches of rain over the July 4 holiday weekend, wilting and crippling the crop in what some call the worst weather event to hit the crop in decades.

Kentucky tobacco hammered by floods

Early July flooding leaves Kentucky tobacco crop wilting in fields with some areas reporting 60 percent to 80 percent damage. Though diseases are the least of growers' worries now, conditions are perfect for them to hit what's left of the crippled crop.  

Kentucky’s tobacco region over the July 4 holiday got eight to 10 inches of rain in three-days, a blow that will be hard for it to recover from.

Tobacco doesn’t like wet feet for too long and things were already saturated, and Kentucky’s tobacco got hit at a bad time. “Tobacco is very susceptible to wet soils, and we have seen a lot of crops wilting down,” said Bob Pearce, University of Kentucky Extension tobacco agronomist. “In some areas agents are reporting to me that 60 percent to 80 percent of the tobacco crop has been damaged.”

In the Bluegrass region, in the northern part of the state, wilting is common with 20 percent to 30 percent of the crop damaged by the flooding, Pearce said.  Western Kentucky burley growers reported wilting, too.

Some of the crops will recover and some will not. Growers will just have to wait and see as harvest kicks off later in August. But even before the big rain July 4, nutritional deficiencies due to wet weather were already causing problems, Pearce said.

“Some growers have experienced a devastating loss of their tobacco crop. This is probably the most widespread damage I have seen from a single event (July 4 weekend) in my career,” Pearce said.

Diseases primed to attack

Even if the rains subside, diseases now have an easy target on the crop, said Kenny Seebold, UK Extension plant pathologist.

“Diseases are definitely low on the list of concerns right now because of all the water damage.  So far, though, I've seen quite a bit of black shank although it is not as bad as I've seen in previous years.  That's a surprise given all the rain, but I think a lot of growers are planting newer varieties with better resistance and they're also using fungicides to a greater extent than in the past,” Seebold said.

But, Seebold expects black shank to really “take off” the remainder of the growing season.

“As for foliar diseases, I've noticed a spike in the amount of target spot and frogeye leaf spot as I've driven around the past couple of days (in mid-July).  I've not seen any severe cases, but it's on a lot of farms.  If we keep getting rains, I expect these to really be a problem as we approach topping,” he said.

He’s advising Kentucky tobacco growers to spray Quadris as soon as they see problems to stave off an explosion of disease later in this season.  “Overall, we're not getting hammered by disease but the stage is set to have problems if the rains keep coming,” he said.

Kentucky is the leading burley-producing state. USDA pegs acreage at 78,000 this year, up about five percent from 2012.

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