To achieve high quality, cured leaf, tobacco producers must intensively manage nutrient inputs.

The best way to do this is with a test known as plant tissue analysis. This quick and inexpensive test, which is available from the Agronomic Services Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, gives growers a way to monitor nutrient needs throughout the season and also schedule harvest to coincide with optimal ripeness.

As a monitoring tool, tissue testing is especially useful when deciding whether to replace nitrogen, potassium or sulfur after leaching rains. For this purpose, a good tissue sample consists of the most recent mature leaves (MRMLs) taken from eight to 12 representative areas throughout the field. The MRML is usually the third to fifth leaf from the growing point.

Brenda Cleveland, chief of the division’s Plant/Waste/Solution/Media Section, encourages growers to pay particular attention to nitrogen fertilization.

“Nitrogen affects leaf quality in many ways,” Cleveland said.

“Excess nitrogen fosters insect problems, increases sucker growth and extends curing time.

“Also, when tobacco receives more than the recommended maximum of 80 pounds nitrogen per acre, maturity can be significantly delayed. When this happens, crops may still be in the field, and at risk, during the September hurricane season. Monitoring nitrogen levels in plant tissue is one way to avoid many of these problems.”