South Carolina flue-cured tobacco producers are on track to a record yield, says Dewitt Gooden, Clemson University Extension tobacco specialist.

During an abbreviated tour of the crop in mid-July, Gooden said timely rains this summer have expectations high for an excellent crop, despite uncertainty on the marketing front and increase in disease pressure this year.

If Frankie Woodard's crop is any indication of the South Carolina yield potential this season, it will be a bumper crop. Checking out one of his fields in Darlington County, S.C., Woodard could just as well be looking at a green billiard table — tall, flat and green — and getting ready to run the table.

“We've had good rains when we needed to have rains,” Woodard says.

The 2001 crop didn't start off that way, however.

Dry weather at planting time and early on caused concern among growers, Gooden says.

“We've had sort of a strange year,” Gooden says. “It was awfully dry the first six weeks of the season. But we've had timely rains since then and the tobacco is on schedule.”

Clemson University Extension agents also reported on the crop during the tour.

In Horry County, Extension agent Bruce Johnson said rains have increased the yield as well as the disease potential. “You don't have to look far to find tomato spotted wilt virus.” Granville wilt is also a problem in some fields.

In Marlboro County, Vic Bethea said growers “have as good a crop as they've had in a while.”

Jody Martin, Extension agent in Florence County, reported that producers are on track for an excellent year, despite more problems this season with TSWV than in recent years. “We're excited about the rains we got in early July.”

For growers in Darlington County, rain has also been a welcomed sight. “A drought pocket in the county just got two inches of rain yesterday that will help fill out the crop,” said David Gunter, Darlington County Extension agent.

One bad point for this season, however, has been disease pressure.

“We've had the worst incidence of tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) that we've ever had,” Gooden said.

TSWV has been a concern in the southern part of the state near Georgia, but in the past few years has moved progressively north. North Carolina has also reported more TSWV incidence this season.

“In some fields, we have as much as 4 percent to 50 percent incidence of TSWV,” Gooden says. Statewide, TSWV incidence is affecting 2 percent to 3 percent of the crop.

About a hundred miles from the Pee Dee area — the largest tobacco growing area in South Carolina — TSWV incidence is generally in the range of 50 percent, Gooden says.

“The southern part of the state has been the hot spot for TSWV in the past,” Gooden says. “This season, it has moved up into the Pee Dee.”

With the move has come concern about combating the virus. There are no control measures for TSWV or varietal resistance.

Researchers and plant breeders in both North Carolina and South Carolina are jointly working with colleagues in Georgia to find ways to deal with the virus in flue-cured tobacco, Gooden says.

Georgia producers have been dealing with TSWV for several years now in both peanuts and tobacco.


e-mail: cecil_yancy@intertec.com