The best tobacco harvest aid may be a tissue sample, says the assistant director of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services agronomics division.

Taken a week to 10 days before harvest, a tobacco leaf sample could very well help you schedule harvest for optimum leaf maturity.

With producer contracts specifying as many as five stalk positions, analysis of harvestable leaves helps maximize yields and grades, says Bobby Walls, assistant director of the NCDA's agronomic division.

“Cured leaf quality depends largely on nitrogen at the time of harvest,” Walls says. “Tissue analysis is one of the best tools available when it comes to making decisions about the timing of harvest.

“For tobacco producers, there are two basic timings for tissue analysis — one early in the season and the other a week to 10 days before harvest,” Walls says. An early tissue analysis can help producers adjust nitrogen levels. The latter analysis can help producers schedule harvest of the ripest leaves in the field.

“Ripe tobacco should have certain amounts of nitrogen in them, and a tissue analysis can help pin-point those levels,” Walls says. After topping, mature tips make the best samples.

  • To make the most of the tissue analysis for determining the best time to harvest, collect a leaf from the 12 leaves from the stalk position desired at representative areas throughout the field about a week before the intended harvest.

  • Place the sample in a paper bag.

  • Complete the Plant Analysis Information sheet. Describe the environmental conditions, fertilizer history and plant appearance on the form. When testing for ripeness and maturity, be sure to include stalk positions of the leaf samples and specify that the sample contain harvest leaves instead of most recent mature leaves. These designations make a big difference in how tissue analyses are evaluated. Nutrient content of leaves varies depending on stalk position.

  • Enclose the $4 processing fee for each sample.

The Agronomic Division analyzes plant tissue samples within two days of arrival at the lab. Each report, along with the agronomist's comments, is posted on the Division's Web site at www.ncagr.com/agronomi as soon as it is complete. A copy is also mailed to the grower.