Changing the arrangement of nozzles that tobacco farmers use to spray sucker control chemicals could speed this notoriously slow process, scientists said on the 2006 North Carolina Tobacco Tour.

It might also help minimize undesirable maleic hydrazide (MH) residues.

One spray arrangement seemed to perform well in this summer's tests.

It involved a center nozzle with two flat fan tips. Both tips were oriented at about a 45-degree angle, with one spraying down the row and the other spraying up the row. There were also two outside nozzles with flat fan tips turned to spray parallel with the row.

The standard placement is one nozzle in the center and one on each side.

“When we applied one quart of Prime + or Flupro in one direction and then came back down the row in the opposite direction on the same day, sucker control was slightly improved compared to a two-quart application in one pass,” said Loren Fisher, North Carolina Extension tobacco specialist.

“Putting double nozzles in the center simulates in one pass the effects of making two passes with the standard arrangement. It might allow us to get equal results, but we won't know for sure until the data on this year's tests is back.”

One of the spray tests was conducted this season at the farm of Joey and Gary Scott near Kenly, N.C., and he was intrigued in what he saw.

“The nozzle arrangement with double nozzles in the middle — which is the arrangement we would use to spray for soybean rust — might have some promise for us,” Joey Scott said when the tour came to his farm.

The benefit might not just be in speed of application, he said. There could also be a payoff in the form of lower MH residues.

Scott said his normal approach to sucker control on his flue-cured is the standard applications of a 4 percent contact suckercide followed by a 5 percent suckercide. “Sometimes we do a third contact application — 5 percent again — if we need to let the tip leaves get a little bigger before we apply our tank-mix of MH and Prime+.”

In 2005, Scott grew some flue-cured on an “MH free” contract for a company that didn't want any MH applied to its tobacco at all.

Good treatment

“We left the MH out of the last spray and just used Prime+, and it turned out pretty good,” Scott said.

But the Scotts decided not to seek an MH-free contract for 2006 because they didn't think they had enough labor.

“We are growing more tobacco with the same labor,” Scott said. “That means we didn't have enough workers to go through the field enough times to keep the suckers out by hand (if they broke through).”

Coincidentally, that turned out to be a fortunate decision because of an unexpected weather event. “Our fields were damaged by tropical storm Alberto (in June), and the stalks were so twisted that it would have been difficult to control suckers just with contacts and Prime+.”

It will be hard to ever get away entirely from MH in sucker control, Scott said. “But we will do it if that is what it takes for the export market.”

One of the most eye-catching sights on the North Carolina Tobacco Tour was burley tobacco growing in a number of fields in eastern North Carolina, the traditional heart of flue-cured country. There has definitely been a shift in location of the North Carolina burley crop to the Piedmont and the east.

Now, in the second season of unregulated plantings, it appears there will be about twice as much burley as there was last year in the non-traditional areas, most of which are in the Old Belt, said Fisher.

But don't expect that to translate into a big increase in total North Carolina plantings of burley, because plantings in the traditional areas have fallen by roughly an equal amount. So total North Carolina burley acreage is probably similar to last year, or maybe a little higher.

The tour included a demonstration of the notcher-cutter burley harvester made by the Kirpy company of France (see Southeast Farm Press, July 5, 2006).

The machine runs a blade down a burley row, cutting off the stalk at ground level and putting a diagonal notch in it that is used to hang the stalk from wire. A conveyor carries the stalks to a wagon, which in turn carries them to the curing barn. The process is far less labor intensive than the traditional harvesting method of cutting down the stalks with a hatchet-like tool and skewering them on a stick.

Boyette said about 20 Kirpy units are being used in the Southeast this year.