Tobacco Day 2008
Article Images (Click for larger view)
Growers gather in Smithfield, North Carolina to hear the latest research - and honor two of their own
by David Williams
Eastern North Carolina growers gathered to assess the state of their crops and their short- and long-term standing, as Tobacco Day 2007 was held Dec. 6 at the Johnston County Agricultural Center near Smithfield.
The event, sponsored by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and the N.C. State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, drew a crowd near three hundred as speakers on a wide range of tobacco issues spoke and answered questions from growers.
Dr. Mina Mila, assistant professor and tobacco Extension specialist for plant pathology at N.C. State, presided over the meeting. She also spoke on an update of black shank races and its implication to management of the disease. Mila said that 2007 saw a rise in black shank in eastern North Carolina, with significant presence of race 1 in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions.
She urged resistance measures if a field showed 5 percent or more presence of black shank in its last tobacco crop. She recommended use of Ridomil Gold and to fumigate the field if nematodes or Granville wilt was a persistent problem, as well as usual crop rotation. Ridomil Gold was best used at planting, with early treatment being the better course.
Crop science Extension associate Robbie Parker spoke on pesticide residues. The issue has become more important to growers as more leaf is purchased for foreign markets. Parker noted CORESTA established residue guidelines for 99 products, called GRLs.
The guideline for MH, which has become the highest-watched residue level for foreign-purchased leaf, is set at 80 parts per million. Growers have been urged to find ways to take the level even lower to be competitive with Brazilian leaf, which is grown without use of MH for sucker control.
Parker said residues of other chemicals varied from three to 20 percent from lower to upper stalk, with levels going down in certain chemicals as the stalk position got higher. While GRLs for Flumetralin (5 ppm), Pendimthalin (5 ppm) and Trifluralin (0.1 ppm) were low, the European Union seeks to end use of these chemicals.
Dr. Loren Fisher, assistant professor and tobacco Extension specialist for crop science at N.C. State, addressed the crowd on strategies for continuing to lower MH residues. He said the current level of 80 parts per million were being exceeded overall, and EU pressure to lower the threshold even more makes the issue an industry-wide concern.
According to statistics tracked between 1992 and 2003, levels in Georgia and Florida were higher than in other areas. The residues for the 2007 crop were expected to be high with the drier conditions, and levels were notably higher on upper stalk positions. Fisher said that more time between MH application and harvest usually brought MH levels down.
Entomology expert Dr. Hannah Burrack told the crowd that dry conditions are keeping crops in the field longer, thus leaving the crop open to additional generations of insect pests. Increased populations of hornworms and splitworms were being noted.
Dr. Blake Brown of N.C. State briefed the audience on the overall outlook and situation for tobacco. While America should supply more than 500 million pounds of tobacco even with the drought, Brazil is out-producing all other countries, even through their current figure is down slightly.
Domestic tobacco use is decreasing, but post-buyout production is seeing a recovery due to exports. Prices for 2007 were averaging $1.52 a pound, up 2 cents from the 2006 estimate. The drought brought growers some trouble in that some tobacco was rejected due to grade. Price varied due to discounts from quality.
Brown sees 2008 with a 5 to 9 cent-per-pound increase in prices, and assistance could be coming for fuel costs. That should set the 2008 price per pound at $1.60, but rising costs will shrink profits. There is an interest in more mechanization to continue to shrink labor costs.
Brown said more farmers were getting out of the business, acreage is stagnant or declining, and more centralization of growing areas continued in eastern North Carolina.
The possibility of federal regulation of tobacco by the Food and Drug Administration would bring higher cigarette prices, lower cigarette production and decreased demand for leaf. Changes in cigarette production technology, particularly through harm-reduction efforts, will result in less tobacco being used per cigarette and demand for leaf declining.
The lunch session saw a talk from Dr. David Danehower, assistant professor for crop science, on the possibility of using green tobacco biomass in the bioproducts industry, including the making of ethanol products.
The highlight of the event was the honoring of Dr. Mike Boyette and Norman Harrell as Tobacco Greats. The list of Tobacco Greats dates back to 1994 and includes 26 individuals whose service in the industry merited the recognition.