Participants of the North Carolina 2001 tobacco tour stayed cool and went back to school for two days.

Out of concern of keeping hoof and mouth disease out of the country, North Carolina State University restricted the tour to people who had not been out of the United States in the last two weeks — and stayed out of the tobacco fields altogether.

Instead, Extension personnel and researchers loaded up their presentations on computer programs or showed videos of their work in the field.

The auditorium at the Zebulon Civic Center was full as participants listened to research presentations ranging from research on tomato spotted wilt virus, to budworms to tests of a new dual level harvester to a meter that measures nitrosamine levels in tobacco on the farm.

Here, the Southeast Farm Press highlights some of the research presented on this virtual tour:

Following the morning sessions at the two-day event, groups alternated at sessions set up in the auditorium and outside the civic center.

Blue mold forecast

On one stop, Charles Main, North Carolina State emeritus plant pathologist, discussed the Blue Mold Forecasting Center. “The Blue Mold Forecast Center is a support system to help growers and others make decisions of when and if in a 36- to 48-hour period the risk of blue mold outbreaks are high or low,” Main says. Some 482 counties in the United States grow tobacco.

“The Center runs as many as 600 forecasts a year,” says Thomas Keever, the Center's meteorologist. Plenty of rain and blue mold spores have kept him hopping this season. It takes as many as eight hours to produce one forecast, and it takes an hour to access the information from each source.

He also checks a number of weather indicators in forecasting the risk of blue mold outbreaks: Precipitation and humidity, as well as projected wind charts.

It's out in the field where diseases cause problems however. For this virtual tour, it was under the drive-through outside the civic center where Warren Gutierrez, North Carolina State research plant pathologist, held a disease identification clinic.

“When the tobacco plant is wilting on one side, healthy on the other side — what's that?” Gutierrez asks. Silence.

“Granville wilt,” Gutierrez answers his own question. “Granville wilt is a vascular disease. So, out in the field, get a knife and cut open the stem and look at it.”

The tomato spotted wilt virus presents ringed symptoms on the veins of the leaves where the plant was infected. Infected stalks may also have black streaking marks on them.

It may be difficult to distinguish black shank from Pythium, Gutierrez says. “A lot of times, we have to put a plant sample in a petri dish and let it grow before we're able to definitively say what disease it is.”

He told the group there's a new race of black shank affecting NC-71. Pythium has also given farmers fits in the wet weather this season.

At this virtual tour, Sterling Southern, Extension entomologist, went to an organic tobacco field via video. He also presented a video on insect scouting and identification.

“This is a virtual tour,” explained David Smith, North Carolina State Extension tobacco specialist. “It's a different type of situation for all of us.

“We've been having field tours in North Carolina for a long time before I came here,” he said.

“Coming indoors is more of a challenge to us because we have to go out and prepare the presentations for a different format,” Smith says.

More information

“I think we can give them more data this way, but they don't get to see the tobacco and get out there and touch the tobacco in the field,” Smith says.

“I anticipate that next year, assuming the hoof and mouth disease is under control in other countries, that we'll be back to our standard format — out in the field,” Smith says.

Had it been out in the field, tour participants would have been sweating in mid-90-degree weather. As it was, one participant remarked that, “This is the coolest farm tour I've been on.”

He wasn't using the slang vernacular, but was commenting on the climate inside the building.

The night before the tour, participants attended a Durham Bulls baseball game.


e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com