2007 Georgia/Florida Tobacco Tour
Notes from the road
by David Williams
Some of the earliest solo driving I ever did was down the dirt roads near my grandfather’s farm. I learned how to master control of the wheel by bouncing down the rutted pathways of dried mud and rising dirt clouds as the car would go as fast as a nervous, but enthralled novice driver would dare to take a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle.
I was reminded of those heady days of youth as I joined the caravan that rolled along the back roads of south Georgia and northern Florida on the annual Tobacco Tour in June. Headed by University of Georgia Research Agronomist J. Michael Moore, this group of writers, growers, ag-related businessmen and research scientists made our way, caravan-style, from Waycross to Lake City in two days. We stopped at several test plots, spoke to several local growers and reviewed several field studies as we rode both the paved and the dirt roads, led by J. Michael’s white Suburban.
The trip was a learning experience in every sense of the word, as I learned about how growers tend their crops effectively and efficiently, maximizing yield. The experiments we looked at were only part of the educational process as we talked about everything on a farmer’s plate, from the parched conditions, to hornworms, splitworms, thrips, and the ever-present enemy of Georgia tobacco, Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus.
We learned that while a recent rainy spate was good news, it was also bad news in that it drowned several stands of leaf. We learned about wash-off rate for chemicals intended to aid growth and reduce insect or viral attack. We talked about sources for disease and possible methods to prevent disease.
It provided me with a hands-on method of understanding what a grower goes through and the things he has to watch out for to get a good crop to the contractor. It also revealed the appreciative relationship between the growers, the extension agents, and the scientific community that constantly studies why crops fail and how to make crops thrive.
Here, more or less, are the top ten things I learned while on the Georgia-Florida Tobacco Tour, 2007:
- When following in caravan, and a sudden heavy downpour comes along, it’s best to get some space between the vehicles in gradual increments. Don’t jam on the brakes as you try to figure out through the overmatched windshield wipers just where the bumper in front of you is located, or you will give the person behind you a similar problem with your rear bumper. J. Michael preached to all of us to “keep your lights on so we can tell you are with the tour.” When the rains came, suddenly, all the vehicular traffic turned on their lights and appeared to join us on the tour.
- Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus, while a devastating enemy, can be controlled through some innovative processes. Using a variant of a no-till technique, the thrips that are related to TSWV have more difficulty finding the young plants through the extra stubble of a previous crop.
- Crop insurance is somewhat underrated as a safety net for crop loss. I heard a conversation between a grower and an ag writer end on this telling line: “It’s like filing a claim on an auto policy. Do you ever get what the car was worth?”
- Another important caravan pointer is to make sure the gas gauge is as full as humanly possible before the trip. It seems a pretty simple thing, sure, but when you start on a half-tank and estimate you will get 200 miles on the remaining gas, it is a safe bet you will travel 225 miles that day. Tank up early and often.
- Directions for finding test plots are somewhat rural in nature. Actual examples of directions from the tour book include “right at pecan trees,” “left at house with blue shutters,” “U-Turn after McDonalds,” and my personal favorite, “Turn left where the Thomson’s barn used to be.” OK, that last one was made up.
- Transplant management seems to be a factor in prevention of TSWV. According to some testing results, 10-11 week transplants, non-clipped, using Actigard and Admire in the greenhouse 5-7 days before transplant, and a field spray of Actigard, will yield just 14.7 percent TSWV in the plants. Other variants in the study ran as high as a 35.9 percent TSWV presence.
- Studies on tree pollen’s affect on spring thrips have shown a decided increase for thrips laying eggs after feeding on pine pollen. No recommendations were made regarding delaying of planting near pines or on prevention techniques as yet.
- Black shank can be troublesome in wet conditions, but the dry start to the season has made the disease less of a threat. Field testing is possible to see which black shank variant is prevalent, so a grower can know how best to treat it, and to know which strains are not as resistant to treatment.
- Tifton, Georgia has one fine seafood house. Ask J. Michael for the name of the restaurant as I was too busy eating to really take notice. Thanks, J. Michael.
- Hornworms are without a doubt the ugliest insect in the grower’s rogues gallery. Suppression of the hornworm, in one study, was best achieved through plant tray drenching with Actigard (1/2 ounce per 50,000 plants) and Admire Pro (0.8 ounces per 1,000 plants), and 20 gallons of rinse water per 10,000 plants. Studies indicated just 1.3 percent hornworm damage.
For details on subjects covered in the Tour, contact J. Michael Moore at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Services, at 229-386-3006. He can put you in touch with the fine researchers at the Bowen Farm test site and elsewhere who worked long-hard hours to provide the research. Thanks to all of them for my education.
Remember to keep your gas tank on full, and keep your lights on.