Even though substantially all tobacco plants in this country are grown in greenhouses for the first 60 days or so of their lives, they can still be vulnerable to cold winter weather.

That is what Jeff Aiken, who grows burley in Tedford, Tenn., was afraid of back on March 8, when he started seeding his greenhouses. His reason for concern: there were extreme temperature changes during and after seeding.

"If you get conditions like this, there is a chance you will have problems of germination,”he says. "We tried to avoid wide variations in the temperature inside the greenhouse," but he wasn't entirely able.

But at the beginning of May, just before he began setting plants out in the field, the quality of the plants was good, and there were no diseases. Germination had been good.

But there was one potential problem—the weather had delayed the plants’development, he said. "They may be 10 days behind schedule to be ready to transplant."

Farmers throughout the Tobacco Belt had similar experiences, but there was optimism about how things would turn out. Tobacco is a plant that can catch up quickly in the field if conditions are favorable and make up for a delayed start. But if weather extremes were to continue through the field season, the plants might fall further behind, possibly interfering with the harvest.    

Transplants were a bit scarce in the dark air-cured and fire-cured area of north central Tennessee and western Kentucky, said Andy Bailey, Kentucky-Tennesee Extension dark tobacco specialist.

"Some greenhouse operators waited five to 10 days later than normal to seed because of the price of LP gas," he said. "Since then we have had a lot of cold nights and cool days. Now we are probably a week behind overall on seeding date and another week behind in growth in the greenhouse."

That has lead to a few problems already and could lead to more.