THE FOURTH of July was no fun for many tobacco growers this summer. This field in Clark County, Ky., was still inundated a day after the rain stopped. Most of the water standing here fell in a 30-minute period.
Bluegrass farmer Jerry Rankin of Danville, Ky., said in a July 31 interview that he was at that moment harvesting burley from one field, which was way ahead of schedule because of the rain.
“The water ran in rivers down the rows, and with so much of it, it couldn’t run off quickly, “he said. “When it did drain, the tobacco was stressed and some took on black shank.”
In the mountain burley area of southwest Virginia, farmers didn’t get the overwhelming precipitation that many others did. “But we still got way too much water,” said Danny Peek, Extension agronomist in Virginia. “The yield will be affected. We could end up with 1,700 pounds per acre, or it might make up to 1,800 pounds.”
The chance of getting any sort of acceptable yield from his most affected fields was minimal, so Rankin decided to harvest and salvage what he could. It wasn’t easy: Curing was difficult because of the condition of the plants.
“It appears to me our yields will be 25 percent short of what we would have had,” said Rankin. “It might be more.”
Most flue-cured areas got more than enough rain too, though not as much of it in one storm. In the Willacoochee and Nashville area of south Georgia, 56 inches of rain fell through the end of July, more than normally falls in a whole year, and other areas had similar experiences.
"Besides drowning, we have had a good bit of nitrogen loss, and also damage to the root systems," said J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco agronomist. "Yields will be down and quality reduced."
In South Carolina, there was season-long disagreement about how many acres of flue-cured had been planted. The USDA had projected that plantings were down from 12,000 acres in 2012 to 9,000 acres this year, which would be a drastic reduction. Extension agronomist Dewitt Gooden thinks South Carolina growers planted at least 12,000 acres — last season's acreage — and maybe a little more.
Thanks to the rain, he said practically all the tobacco in South Carolina would be harvested by Labor Day, somewhat earlier than normal.
In North Carolina, farmers were harvesting all across the state as August drew to an end. Some in the Coastal Plain had finished completely.
“It's difficult to say how much of the crop has been harvested, or even how many operations are completely finished, because there is a lot of variability across the state,” said Matthew Vann, North Carolina Extension crop science associate. “Overall, the crop is a little light in terms of weight, but given the difficult season we've had, no one is surprised at that.”