2006: Looking back
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Some growers experienced a good season, while others struggled with weather and diseases.
Decent in the east and good in the old belt describes the 2006 flue-cured crop, although some Georgia growers had problems with TSWV. Burley growers, for the most part, will achieve higher yields this season, but some areas were plagued by disease.
A cool, wet spring was followed by a hot and dry August in the east. In the old belt, the cool spring delayed the crop, but Loren Fisher, Extension tobacco specialist with North Carolina State University, says it still looks good. “Some areas in the east were better than others, and good yielding areas were scattered across the production region,” says Fisher.
“Altogether though, I believe most growers will be able to supply contract amounts,” he says. “This year’s crop has been expensive to produce, with increased management costs due to adverse weather along with increased energy costs.”
In Virginia, Extension tobacco specialist David Reed predicted a reasonably good flue-cured crop despite difficult times for some growers. Growing conditions were highly variable. Most growers received adequate rainfall up to the beginning of August, when dry conditions set in over most of the growing region. The crop suffered from high temperatures.
“On average, the crop quality is good and yield is going to be good,” Reed says. “However, there are some drought-affected communities scattered across the production area where producers have suffered.”
He estimated topping was 10 days later than normal. Growers were harvesting rapidly; however, their curing barn capacity was limited.
Pests weren’t much more problem than usual. Some growers saw tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV), but losses were insignificant. Black shank did cause unusual losses for individual growers. “The development of Race 1 black shank-infested fields appears to have become more commonplace,” Reed says.
In Georgia, a cool spring delayed transplanting for most growers in 2006 until after the April 7 target date to reduce TSWV. Transplanting trailed into early May. After using up their greenhouse and plantbed transplants, growers sought transplants from South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
“Early estimates were that Georgia growers transplanted approximately 18,000 acres of tobacco in 2006, up from 17,000 acres transplanted in 2005,” says J. Michael Moore, Extension tobacco specialist with the University of Georgia. “Since that time, Georgia ag statistics [indicate] that 16,000 acres will be harvested. This is likely due to the high incidence of TSWV-affected plants in the 2006 crop and the excessive drought experienced early in the season and continuing until late in the harvest season.”
Moore estimated that approximately 35 percent of the plants across the state exhibited TSWV symptoms. He adds that yields were reduced from 15 to 18 percent. “Growers who followed the University of Georgia suggestions for TSWV management and utilized imidicloprid [Admire Pro and others] and Actigard applications in the greenhouse prior to transplanting were able to reduce their incidence of the disease by 50 percent from untreated plots,” Moore says.
In late August 2006, the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development estimated the losses due to drought and excessive heat at $25.3 million. Because of the drought and excessive heat stress, tobacco acreage was released by crop-insurance companies.
Early in the season, young transplants succumbed to rhizoctonia. Because of this disease, full-grown plants broke off at the soil line.
As in several tobacco states this year, black shank infected many plants. Growers started noticing it more after topping and submitted samples to the university’s diagnostic laboratory, which evaluated them for race determination.
“In all cases, Race 1 black shank was found to be the cause,” Moore says. “Most varieties grown by Georgia growers are highly resistant to Race 0, but we currently do not have any significant resistance to Race 1 to recommend.”
Fewer growers are using Ridomil for black shank prevention. Also, the tobacco quota buyout a few years ago caused consolidation of operations and has resulted in growers planting on fields that have a history of black shank.
Late in the Georgia growing season, when half the stalk remained unharvested, some tobacco was infected with hollow stalk, caused by the erwinia soft-rot bacteria. Moore says some of the fields had as much as 25 percent of the plants affected, which caused some leaf losses.
Late-season, scattered rains caused the tobacco to take a second growth and turned much of it greener. This delayed the final harvest, which caused two concerns. Many growers feared their labor, if they didn’t keep them busy, would leave for harvesting in the burley regions of the country. Growers also feared they would lose their crop to late-season diseases, such as brown spot or angular leafspot, or to splitworm feeding, or to drought and excessive heat. Rather than wait, they opted to salvage what they could.
Splitworms were a real pest this season and caused losses for some growers. The pests went undetected early in the season, reproduced and fed on the lower stalk then worked their way up to higher leaves. Insecticide applications by University of Georgia entomologist David Jones showed some positive results. He applied high rates of Lannate in large amounts of water at high pressure rates. However, while this helped, Moore says it didn’t work unless the chemical penetrated the leaf, where it could reach the splitworm, which is usually found between the outer layers of the leaf.
Georgia growers were disappointed with marketing prices, especially on downstalk tobacco, Moore says. Major tobacco companies showed less interest for the type of tobacco grown in the state because of a decline in demand by their buyers. However, Moore says the Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative Stabilization Corp. in Raleigh, N.C., purchased more downstalk grades.
“All companies have complained about growers submitting tobacco that was too green or had too much lifeless black/brown tobacco in the bale,” Moore says. “In some cases, tobacco has been turned down or received such low offers that growers with more than one contract have taken it to another receiving station.”
In Tennessee, burley tobacco growers dealt with drought in late July and early August, but by mid- to late August the crop had improved, says Paul Denton, Extension tobacco specialist with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.
“The most recent USDA crop production report projects us to have an average yield for burley of 2,100 pounds per acre,” he says. “If we actually achieve this, it will be the highest state average yield in over a decade.”
Black shank caused fewer problems in 2006 than in 2005, Denton says; however, some farmers in drier areas of the state saw more damage than others. He attributed the reduced damage to the better growing season and lessons learned by growers in 2005. They realized they still needed to rotate and use soil-applied fungicides in infested fields, “even with the best available resistant varieties [KT 200 and KY 204],” he says.
Blue mold appeared in numerous fields in several Tennessee counties. Damage was kept to a minimum overall. At the end of August, this disease still remained a threat to late planted tobacco, as cloudy conditions and rain hovered over east Tennessee. Denton expected the risk to lessen, because tobacco was about 90 percent topped and 40 percent harvested.
Denton has noticed less target spot this year than in 2005, mainly due to the less favorable weather conditions for the disease during the time tobacco was closing canopy. Target spot favors mature leaves and moist conditions, he says, so it remains a threat if weather turns rainy during harvest.
Storm damage also was at a minimum up to Aug. 31.
“All in all, a good year,” Denton says. “I just wish we had more acres of tobacco planted to benefit from it, and I hope everyone can find adequate labor for harvest and stripping of what we have.”
In Kentucky, losses from black shank “should approach the million-dollar-plus mark,” says Gary Palmer, Extension tobacco specialist with the University of Kentucky. “The problem in assessing total losses from black shank is that all effects are not apparent. Total losses can easily be three to five times the amount estimated by producers.”
Kentucky’s burley season started off dry, averaging 3.6 inches of precipitation from the four recording stations that Palmer uses to calculate rainfall effect. One of the stations is
in Glasgow, Ky., and another in Louisville, Ky. Two are in Lexington.
The drier conditions after planting were “good for root development and nutrient uptake, both of which make for a good start and help sustain the crop season-long,” he says.
Blue mold arrived from out of state early and caused significant losses. Palmer says control cost many growers millions of dollars, but they were able to keep losses down from what they could have been. The biggest damage occurred when growers suffered from early infection of systemic blue mold or failed to control the disease.
Most Kentucky tobacco fields have received plentiful rainfall, and Palmer expected a large crop with high yields. “The only real concern is labor to get the crop in the barn,” he says. “Inevitably, some tobacco will be cut a little late, cut and left in the field too long, and may have more mud and dirt than normal due to recent rains.
“This is the best crop since 1994, but in 1994 curing conditions were poor. This year, curing has started much better and should continue to be so.”
In North Carolina, burley growers benefited from a good crop, and their yields should be similar to slightly above last season, Fisher says.
“The curing season that remains will decide the final quality of the crop,” he said on Aug. 30, 2006.
In Virginia, adequate rain started falling in May through the middle of June, says Danny Peak, burley tobacco specialist at the Southwest Virginia Agricultural Research & Education Center in Glade Spring, Va. “How-
ever, there was not so much rain that transplanting was delayed significantly,” he says. “Late June and early July were relatively dry, allowing plants to develop a good root system that allowed for good growth throughout the season.”
Disease was less of a problem in the 2006 growing season than the year before, Peak says, except for some black shank concerns in many fields. The loss was less this year than in 2005; however, he says the symptoms of the soil pathogen continue to appear in new fields each year.
“Growers should be aware and take precautions to prevent/reduce the spread of the disease from field to field with good sanitation of equipment,” Peak says. “If black shank is present on your farm, tobacco should be rotated out [of] those fields to fields that don’t have the disease. If tobacco is grown in fields where black shank is present, a resistant variety and a fungicide should both be used to reduce yield loss.”
Blue mold damage was light in burley this year across Virginia, he says. From the beginning of September through Sept. 25, the curing season was good with adequate moisture and mild temperatures. “Virginia should have a good-yielding, high-quality cured leaf for the 2006 crop,” Peak says.
In the Piedmont of Virginia, dry conditions with high temperatures in August delayed burley harvest past the optimum time, which negatively affected yields, Reed says.