Spotty is how a North Carolina State University tobacco specialist described the state's 2001 flue-cured crop in mid-July. He was using the word to describe the effect the weather has had on this year's crop.
“The weather has gone from very dry to very wet, depending on where the grower is in the state,” says David Smith, North Carolina State University Extension tobacco specialist. Flue-cured tobacco production in North Carolina is forecast at 372 million pounds, 6 percent below the 395 million pounds produced in 2000. Yield is forecast at 2,252 pounds per acre, down 169 pounds from last year.
Early on, the state generally had dry weather. In June, Tropical Storm Allison dumped from four to 12 inches of rain in a 24-hour period on a good portion of the eastern growing region of the state.
“Right now, the better crops are the ones that had the dry weather earlier,” Smith says. “The dry weather, followed by timely rains helped the plants establish a good root system.”
Going up the I-95 corridor, it's a different story. East of 95, in Lenoir County, parts of Wilson County and up into the northeastern part of the state, the tobacco crop is believed to have suffered an eight-million-pound yield loss.
Billy Dunham, Craven County Extension agent, says the heavy rain took its toll on the crop in his county. “A week or so after the heavy rains came, I thought we had lost the crop,” he says. “I don't think we're going to have the crop that was on the way, but we do have a fairly good crop, yield wise and quality wise.”
In the Piedmont, producers have a “nice crop,” Smith says.
“Some parts of the eastern part of North Carolina also have a good crop, particularly toward the coast,” Smith says.
In general, Smith expects good quality from the 2001 crop. “We'll make our pounds.” He expects the flue-cured yield average to be 2,000 pounds or more for the entire state. North Carolina had some 80 million pounds of carryover tobacco from last season, Smith says.
Weather and disease has played a big part in the progression of the crop from transplanting to harvest. “Because of blue mold and excessive water, the bottom stalk tobacco is not going to be very good,” Smith says.
Growers have been on a constant vigilance over blue mold since early in the season. Blue mold was first detected in a greenhouse in Rolesville, N.C., April 2. It has been a concern this season in the field since the first of May, Smith says. “It hasn't cost growers much in terms of yield as it has the cost to control it.” Some 38 flue-cured counties, as well as eight burley counties in North Carolina, had blue mold this year.
In addition to concerns over blue mold, North Carolina flue-cured producers have seen more tomato spotted wilt virus this season than in the past, Smith says.
Statewide, the incidence is in the neighborhood of 2 percent to 5 percent, say Extension experts.