Good moisture, coupled with low insect and disease pressure, has created almost ideal growing conditions for Georgia tobacco producers like Del Beasley, who watched his crop double in size over the space of four or five days due to timely rainfall.

“Dry weather appeared to be a problem earlier in the season, but we've received three to six inches of rain in the past week, and that's more than our total rainfall amount since January,” said Beasley in mid-June. “We haven't had enough insect pressure to amount to anything, and we've seen very little disease pressure.”

Beasley, who farms in southeast Georgia's Evans County, predicts he'll make a yield of from 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per acre from this year's tobacco crop.

Garry Stone, who farms in nearby Appling County, installed irrigation this past winter but hasn't had to use it on his tobacco. “We've received from one to four inches of rain in a week's time, and the crop is looking very good,” said Stone.

Georgia tobacco producers started out the 2001 growing season with “exceptional” soil conditions for transplanting, says J. Michael Moore, University of Georgia Extension tobacco specialist.

“Although most of our growers were late getting started, soil conditions were excellent,” says Moore. “Most areas of the state received good rainfall from mid to late March. This allowed growers to begin transplanting during the last week in March and the first week in April. That was early enough since our plants were running behind schedule.”

The downside of later transplanting was that few growers completed the task of fumigating with a nematicide, he says. “There was a scramble among producers to use a contact nematicide — either Nemacur or Mocap — to fill the bill. Whenever your soils are wet and you're rushing to get things done, you never do get the incorporation that you would like or that is needed for nematicides to work properly,” notes Moore.

Although growers haven't seen tremendous problems with nematodes, they do see good early plant growth and vigor whenever a fumigant is used properly, he adds.

Get a jump

“Growers can get a jump on next season if, by Thanksgiving, they go ahead and treat about half of the soils that they'll be planting next year,” recommends Moore.

Early season tobacco growth this year has been very good, especially when compared to recent growing seasons, says the agronomist. “Plants really took off and grew this year. There was some rhizoctonia and pythium scattered about, but generally there were few soil seedling diseases.”

There was little or no rainfall in April and early May, he adds, and the soils that started off so good in March began to turn dry. But despite the dry conditions, plants continued to grow well, he says.

“We began to irrigate in May, probably earlier than normal. In some cases, growers thought the crop would stop progressing without irrigation. Still, we have excellent stands — the plant numbers are there to make a good crop.”

Tomato spotted wilt virus, which has become an increasing concern for Georgia tobacco producers, was down considerably this year from levels seen in previous years, says Moore.

“We estimate that only 10 percent of our tobacco plants in Georgia are infected with tomato spotted wilt. We heard of some high infection levels — from 40 to 50 percent — earlier in the season, but those were in areas that typically experience high levels of the disease.

“This lends support to the theory that tomato spotted wilt has found alternate hosts on which to over-winter, and this keeps occurring in the same areas of the state. There also is some speculation that a wet winter leads to lower tomato spotted wilt pressure, and there certainly are fewer thrips in the fields this year.”

Insect pressure also has been minimal this year, helping growers add to their bottom line, says Moore. “We've had a very light insect year, even with budworms, and that has been a big positive for our growers. Many growers are reporting that they have sprayed only one or two times for insects, when they usually would have sprayed five or six times.”

Rainfall actually has been too plentiful in some areas of Georgia, he says. “We've seen tobacco that has been drowned or that has flopped and is being scalded in the Valdosta, Lakeland and Quitman areas, and even as far as Waycross. Some of our tobacco received too much rain from Tropical Storm Allison and subsequent weather fronts.”

Georgia tobacco growers should make at least 90 percent of their 2001 quota and could do even better, predicts Moore.

A majority of Georgia and Florida tobacco growers will be interested to see how they fare in this the first year of widespread flue-cured contracting, notes Moore.

“Eighty-three percent or more of the Georgia tobacco crop is contracted in 2001. Across the entire flue-cured belt, about 80 percent of the crop is contracted. There will be very few auctions, with one set of buyers and graders this year for all of Florida and Georgia. This is almost unheard of — going from seven sets of buyers and graders down to one.

“Growers are interested in how contracting will work. I think it will proceed very smoothly, and growers will be very pleased, whether they're contracted or selling on the auction market.”

Numbers dropping

The number of tobacco auction houses in Georgia and Florida probably will total six to 10 this year compared to 18 in 2000, says Moore. “There will continue to be significant warehouse sales in the Vidalia, Statesboro, Moultrie and Alma areas, but Florida won't have a warehouse.”