August 13, 2003 | By: Aimee D. Heald

A cooler and wetter than average summer is creating some challenges for tobacco growers. Having to start the planting season nearly a month later in the year due to poor field conditions, growers now are playing a waiting game to get their crop out of the field.

“The burley crop is a mixed bag this year,” said Bob Pearce, tobacco management specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. “A lot of growers would usually be cutting now, and a few are, but the bulk of it will have to wait until possibly the first week of September or later because of the weather.”

In an average year, growers would have the crop curing in the barns by the end of August to the beginning of September.

“Some growers may not be able to get the crop in the barn until the middle or end of September this year,” Pearce said. “Some will really be pushing the frost date and you don’t want tobacco to get frosted.”

When tobacco is frosted it will cure green, and that damages the quality of the leaf. Even if the crop is not frosted in the field, lower temperatures in the barn will slow the curing process. Pearce said the crop might dry before it has a chance to cure.

Growers and scientists alike know that wetter, cooler weather minimizes the root system of a tobacco plant. With these conditions it’s normal to expect a crop with nutrient deficiencies and potash deficiencies, Pearce said. Yields are expected to be below average.

As if lower yields weren’t bad enough, growers now are facing a rapidly increasing problem of blue mold. 

“We’ve been expecting it [blue mold] to show up,” Pearce said. “The last few weeks with rain every day to every other day and foggy mornings – you couldn’t write a better script for blue mold. Cool temperatures have not helped either.”

Pearce said more normal temperatures and drier conditions could help tobacco growers get through the end of the season, but probably won’t increase yield much.

“We’ve had just enough turn in the weather that the crop looks deceptively good in the field,” he said. “It will feel heavy when they cut it because of all the water it’s taken in, but it won’t live up to expectations. Growers could stand some warm dry weather to help out a little.”

According to Tom Priddy, meteorologist in the UK Ag Weather Center, the long-range outlook for Kentucky calls for near normal temperatures and rainfall.

“This is a crop we’ve fought with all year, even before we got it in the ground,” Pearce said. “We’ll continue to fight with it over the next few months.”

Visit the Kentucky Tobacco web site to view the 2003 Burley Tobacco Survey for Kentucky and Virginia.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 859-257-4736, ext. 267
Source: Bob Pearce 859-257-1874