Torrential rainfall during the first part of June might have prevented Georgia tobacco producers from boasting of a bonafide "bumper" crop this year, but it’s still a pretty good crop, and maybe the best in the flue-cured belt.

"The Georgia and Florida crops appear to be the best hope for the flue-cured industry this season," says J. Michael Moore, University of Georgia Extension tobacco specialist. "We probably have a 5-percent stand loss across the state due to drowning. However, we still have the potential to make our quota of 64,308,000 pounds."

Making the quota would have been a certainty prior to the almost daily rainfall received by most growers during the first week of June. But even with the flooding problems, this year’s crop is much better than in 2002, when Georgia’s tobacco was decimated by tomato spotted wilt virus.

"Virginia had major problems transplanting their tobacco crop, with some of it transplanted up to three times in one field," says Moore. "In North Carolina, tobacco is yellow on the bottom and topping appears to be damaged by water. Many fields in South Carolina have Granville wilt, and that’ll take out a sizable portion of the crop. Florida and Georgia have the best chances of making quota this year."

Heavy and prolonged rainfall in February and March caused many Georgia tobacco growers to delay transplanting until field preparations could be completed, he says. As a result, much of the crop was transplanted in mid April — from 10 to 18 days later than normal.

"We even had some planting being done beyond the final reporting day of May 1, but most of that was finished within the first couple of days of May. From there, the crop got off to a great start, with initial stands of almost 100 percent," says Moore.

Tomato spotted wilt virus eventually did move into Georgia fields, he says, and it has caused problems for some growers. "We’re probably at the point of having 5 percent to 7 percent of the crop infected with tomato spotted wilt. That compares favorably to the end of last season when we lost an estimated 41 percent of the plants to the virus."

Several factors may have contributed to the reduced incidence of tomato spotted wilt virus this year, says Moore. University of Georgia research has been looking at moisture levels during March and corresponding thrips levels. Thrips are a vector for the virus.

"We certainly have more proof that wet weather during March tends to reduce the thrips populations. There aren’t as many thrips around when the tobacco is transplanted, and the virus transmission rate appears to be decreased."

Planting date research has not indicated a precise time frame when a grower can transplant tobacco and minimize his risk to tomato spotted wilt virus. However, there has been a trend towards a reduced incidence of the virus after April 7 transplanting.

"Many growers had planned to transplant later based on this information, even before the weather caused delays. Because of cooler weather conditions in March, we had delays in other plants emerging, as well as the death of some weed species that are known to be habitats for thrips as well as alternate hosts for the virus.

"Based on trap information, there initially were very low levels of thrips. Then, in one week, as temperatures rose and transplanting had taken place, thrips numbers jumped dramatically. They rebounded somewhat after starting off at low levels."

Syngenta cooperated with growers in the five flue-cured states to provide third-party labeling of Actigard, says Moore. There also was an increase in the amount of Admire used to help prevent the virus, he adds.

Turning to other diseases affecting this year’s tobacco crop, rhizoctonia came both from plant beds and greenhouses, he says, primarily due to the delay in transplanting. "Normally, plants would have been taken to the field in a timely manner, and rhizoctonia would not have been such a big problem.

"As plants remain in the greenhouses and plantbeds and continue to be clipped — especially as the temperatures become warmer — they seem to develop rhizoctonia problems. So, when you take those to the field and plant them in wet soils, you tend to have some losses. But it was not a major loss, probably about 1 percent or less."

Target spot also was seen as a problem in some fields, says Moore. "This most likely is because we had tobacco reaching the topping stage that was fairly large and was beginning to create a very favorable environment. It was low on the stalk, which holds moisture down in that area, and we were getting rainfall almost every day."

Blue mold also was seen throughout the Georgia tobacco belt, he says. "It has been with us since it was seen in Lake Park during transplanting season. A good amount of Acrobat MZ and Actigard was used by growers to reduce blue mold damage. In many cases, tobacco was beyond layby stage and approaching topping."

Georgia’s tobacco harvest, says Moore, is running later than normal this year. "We have to be honest about the quality of much of this first harvest. It’s thin, it’s full of dirt, and it has blue mold and target spot. It won’t be high quality. Growers will do good to run it through their barns and not have it succumb to barn rot. But overall, this should be a good quality crop."

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com