Reed says there are some distinct advantages of growing tobacco transplants in float house.

These include:

• Labor savings — Greenhouse culture greatly reduces the amount of labor necessary for transplant production and eliminates the greatest labor peak before topping;

• Greater control of environmental conditions — Weather conditions have less direct impact on greenhouse culture than normally experienced in plant beds. Greenhouse-grown transplants tend to exhibit much less premature flowering than plant bed transplants;

• Uniform growth — Greenhouse-grown transplants generally exhibit more uniform growth in the field than plant bed transplants. This may have positive benefits in cultivation and topping.

Other than the cost of building and maintaining these facilities, the major downside, Reed says, is the potential for widespread, rapidly developing disease and insect outbreaks is always present.

None of the highly respected tobacco specialist’s concerns about growing tobacco plants in a float house cover exposure to 2,4-D.

Having so many plants in a closely confined structure was high on Johnson’s list of concerns that morning in February.

The old Lyndon Johnson analogy of getting caught in the open in a West Texas hailstorm came to mind — nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and you damn sure don’t have the heavenly connections to make it stop.

Fortunately, Eddie Johnson did have the chemical connections to make the damage stop. From those two houses of tobacco transplants, he planted 70 acres of tobacco and friends and neighbors planted another 35-40 acres.

“In the field, those tobacco transplants performed as well as any I’ve ever planted. We continued treating them with Quick-Sol after transplanting.

“We applied one application immediately after transplanting, another 2-3 weeks after transplanting and another about mid-season,” he says.

The North Carolina grower says he has nothing to compare the treated plants to, since all the tobacco he planted was in those two houses.  

“I can’t say whether it helped with yields and quality, because I don’t have anything to compare it to. And, I won’t have a comparison this year, because we treated all our transplants with Quick-Sol when we put them in the float house,” he says.

“What I can say is those plants that were exposed to 2,4-D and treated with the soil amendment had a big root system.

“By the time we got them to the field, some of the plants had grown roots out the bottom of the grow cells and some of the roots hung down 5-6 inches below the cell — that’s real good,” Johnson adds.

In addition to tobacco, Johnson grows grain crops and runs a large, diversified livestock and trucking business.

“Because of our livestock business, we have plenty of manure to use for fertilizer, and we feel like that is a benefit to growing all our crops, including tobacco.

“We have red clay soils, not much flat land, and we need to farm on the contours when we can.

And, up here in northwest North Carolina, weather is always a mitigating factor on crop production,” he says, pointing out some of the many things in addition to the health of his tobacco transplants that can affect yield and quality.

“We grow small grains on our tobacco land, and when we cut the winter crop, we plant corn in June or July and cut that for silage. Then, we come back and plant our tobacco the next spring,” he says.

Labor costs and the high cost of inputs for tobacco, along with the Federal Tobacco Buyout program have forced many growers out of business. Those who remain in tobacco production don’t have much room for error.

“Two greenhouses full of dead transplants would have been a big error,” Johnson says.

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