Late winter and spring were really wet in much of the tobacco belt. How wet? In Kentucky, Bob Pearce, Extension tobacco specialist, said March and April combined were the wettest those two months had ever been in the Lexington area.
“There was so much water, it was almost impossible to get in the field and do land preparation,” he said. “At our research farm near Lexington, there was only one day these last two months when it was dry enough to do primary tillage.”
It was like that in the rest of Kentucky and indeed in most of the tobacco states.
In much of the flue-cured area, the weather was characterized by frequent rains, with very short breaks in between. In North Carolina, said Matthew Vann, North Carolina Extension tobacco specialist, soils that were too wet to fumigate all spring forced some growers to delay seeding their houses.
At the northern end of the flue-cured belt, Virginians got a late start on fumigating, said Extension sources. But it was progressing well as of mid-April, and since Virginia tobacco growers generally don’t get into transplanting until May, no delay was expected in transplanting.
Not behind in Kentucky — yet
The situation was much the same for Kentucky burley growers. “We would normally expect to begin transplanting the first or second week of May, and hopefully conditions will be suitable by then,” said Pearce on April 22. “So we are not behind yet.”
The planting season went very well in Tennessee, and there were no significant problems. “We should have plenty of plants,” said Eric Walker, Tennessee Extension tobacco specialist. A very few greenhouses were still being seeded in April.
Planting in Tennessee began the last week of April, but wasn’t expected to get going in earnest till after May 1. “It was really wet in middle and east Tennessee, and land preparation was slowed,” said Walker.
Both Walker and Pearce think burley plantings in their state might be down about 25 percent.
A portion of the 2014 burley crop is still on the farm and will probably be sold in 2015-16. It didn’t get sold through the normal channels because farmers weren’t able to cure it before the markets closed. Much of this tobacco is still hanging in the barn.
That is probably the best place for it to be, said burley grower Roger Quarles of Georgetown, Ky., a grower leader. "Leave it on the stick. Let it go through a few sweats in June and then strip it in August. That seems the best way to handle it."
By April 20, conditions in the greenhouse near Kinston, N. C., in the Coastal Plain, were threatening to force the growers’ hands. “Transplants needed to be moved to the field,” said Chris Jernigan, North Carolina regional agronomist. “Plant size and greenhouse diseases (were) beginning to push growers to the field,” he said.
With all of the rainfall, it was difficult for tobacco farmers in the North Carolina Piedmont to bed up crop land for transplant preparation, said Extension Agent Joey Knight, Caswell County, N.C.
And in Horry County, S.C., on the Atlantic Coast, transplants appeared to be stunting significantly in the greenhouse through April 19, said William Hardee, Extension agent. “They need some warmer and dryer weather.”
When hand roguing helps
If fields display excessive weed pressure during the season, it may pay to use manual labor to remove them before they begin to develop seed, according to the 2015 North Carolina Flue-Cured Production Guide.
But if seed development does take place, hand removal may spread the seed to tobacco leaves.
Once weeds are pulled, it’s best to remove them from the field, as this will prevent the seed bank from being replenished.
Keep field borders free of weeds, since mechanical harvesters can pull up any large weeds that are present as they turn around at the end of harvest rows.
Quality, labor efficiency and yield
The weaker demand and possibly big supply will make the 2015 crop a problematic one for farmers to sell, said Will Snell, Kentucky Extension tobacco economist.
"An excess supply market likely (will) result in more critical grading for the 2015 crop,” he said in late March. “Non-contract tobacco production will be extremely risky.”
It appears that profit margins on this crop will be tight. “Growers will have to place an even greater emphasis on quality, labor efficiency and yield to have a favorable outcome for the 2015 crop," he said.