When a construction company misses a deadline, the fines begin to pile up. When you are late with topping your tobacco, it comes out of your pocket, too.
For every day past the 50 percent button stage you wait to top your tobacco, you lose up to 25 pounds per acre in yield, says Dewitt Gooden, Clemson University Extension tobacco specialist. He reports that only 70 percent of South Carolina flue-cured producers top when the crop is at the 50-percent button stage or sooner.
On-farm tests in South Carolina showed a steady slope of decline in yield, dollars per acre and the dollar value per pound of tobacco topped from one to three weeks after the first button stage. At the 50-percent button stage, tobacco yielded 2,430 pounds per acre for a value of $4,149 per acre and a $1.71 per pound price at auction. Tobacco topped only one week later had 15 fewer pounds per acre, $56 per acre less value, while fetching four fewer cents per pound less at auction.
Tobacco topped at three weeks after the 50-percent button stage showed yields of 2,176 pounds per acre, a value of $3,630 per pound, with a $1.67 per pound price at auction.
“In research plots and in the farmers' tobacco fields, the highest yield and value per acre came from tobacco that had been topped early,” Gooden says.
Early topping produces larger upper leaves and gives the plant a sturdier frame and better drought tolerance to withstand wind damage.
On the disease front, it also helps decrease budworm pressure and may reduce the chance of late-season Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV) infection.