Steve Griffin likes to go the extra mile to make sure he's producing top-quality tobacco. He treats preventatively for blue mold in the greenhouse, tops his crop early, mechanically harvests his tobacco in multiple passes and looks to stay in business through contracting directly with cigarette manufacturers.

The Washington, N.C., diversified producer grows 85 acres of tobacco.

In the greenhouse, Griffin grows enough transplants for 100 acres. He's on a strict five-day schedule of Dithane DF — four ounces per 1,000 square feet for small plants and eight ounces per 1,000 square feet for larger plants.

“Normally, I've never had a problem with blue mold,” Griffin says. “But spraying in the greenhouse doesn't take a whole lot of time and it appears to work, so it's one of those practices I'm going to continue to do. To not spray and risk an outbreak of blue mold could be devastating to me.”

Griffin takes the same approach once his tobacco is in the field.

“I haven't had to contend with blue mold in a while,” Griffin says. “We pay close attention to the blue mold alerts from the Extension Service.”

Griffin doesn't anticipate having problems with blue mold this season, but he's ready if it occurs.

Two years ago, he was among a small group of farmers who tested Actigard in the field. Syngenta's Actigard got a label for blue mold last August. Actigard is labeled for blue mold when tobacco is 18 inches tall.

In the past, Griffin used Acrobat MZ for preventative control of blue mold.

When Griffin tested Actigard in 1997 and 1998 on his eastern North Carolina farm, he noticed an added benefit. Where he applied Actigard, he noticed less tomato spotted wilt virus and, in general, healthier plants. “I didn't have blue mold when I used Actigard, so I've never been able to compare.” Researchers at universities and Syngenta continue to study Actigard's effect on TSWV, as well as tobacco mosaic virus. Currently, Actigard isn't labeled for TSWV or tobacco mosaic virus.

While the transplants are still in the greenhouse, Griffin begins setting the stage for a quality tobacco crop in the field.

On the fertility side, he starts out with 7-7-21 at a rate of 500 pounds per acre broadcast. He'll then apply Telone C-17 at eight gallons per acre in the row. After a 21-day waiting period, he'll incorporate a pint of Command and eight ounces of Spartan in the row and then re-bed the row.

Other nutrients

After transplanting the crop, he'll come back with 200 pounds of 16 percent Bulldog soda and side-dress 400 pounds of 6-6-18 per acre in a two-inch band at the side, two inches deep.

Fertility is important to Griffin, but just as important is what he does when the tobacco is at the button stage.

Per Extension recommendations, Griffin tops his tobacco early. But he goes an extra step and uses three applications of a contact solution. He then follows that with a mix of MH-30 and Prime+.

“With the contact, you could easily stop at two applications, but we like to let those leaves grow for an additional week,” Griffin says. “We put out that third application to get a larger leaf size before we put out our MH-30. It gives the tobacco an additional week to 10 days to grow before the MH is applied.”

Griffin believes that extra time in the field is the reason he averaged 3,500 pounds per acre last year.

He uses a De Cloet harvester, picking five to six leaves in the first pass, four to five leaves in the second pass. Griffin harvests a third time with a stripper.

Contracting

Last year he sold 60,000 pounds of tobacco through a contract signed with R.J. Reynolds.

“I was very pleased with the contract with Reynolds,” Griffin says. “I got a much better price, about eight cents more per pound. You take your tobacco to market and you get paid immediately and you're back home.”

Griffin contracted his crop last year as much to “get his feet wet early and have some knowledge about contracting” as he did for any other reason. This season he signed a contract to deliver all of his tobacco production to Reynolds for 2001.

“Maybe contracting is not for everyone, but it just worked well for me,” Griffin says. “I want to raise tobacco. I've got a baler. I'm in the tobacco business to stay and survive. I think contracting is an advantage for my operation. I wouldn't advocate it for everyone, but it works for me.”