Compensation will be needed because a farmer who has to convert from a sucker control program that uses MH to one that doesn’t will definitely face higher production costs because of increased hand labor.

“If we have to replace MH, we will wind up replacing it with labor,” said Sandy Stewart, North Carolina Extension tobacco specialist. “When you treat with contacts, there are going to be suckers that are missed. As long as we can use MH, it allows us to clean up those suckers. If we have to control suckers without MH, more hand labor will be needed.”

In fact, the timing of labor needs is going to be an important consideration if you have to choose a different chemical to use in place of MH.

“We may be drifting more towards Virginia blends, particularly if manufacturers are restricted in the flavors we can use,” said Collins. “That might be a good omen for North Carolina flue-cured growers.” “This is a controversy that has been going on almost constantly for 50 years,” on tobacco

Stewart expects to see more use of flumetralin, a contact chemical with some systemic action. “Dropline applications are generally the most effective way to apply flumetralin,” said Stewart. “They allow for the most consistent application to each leaf axil. However, they require more labor.”

Successful sucker control without MH starts with proper application rates and timing of contacts, Stewart said. Poor control with contacts cannot be corrected by flumetralin.

When applied by dropline, flumetralin should be mixed the same as with mechanical applications, two quarts of flumetralin in 49.5 gallons of water or three quarts of flumetralin to 49.25 gallons of water. The flumetralin solutions should be applied alone to deliver one half to two thirds of a fluid ounce of solution per plant.

There almost certainly will be one fringe benefit if MH is ever banned completely in the U.S.: It would make our tobacco more attractive to buyers on the international market. For whatever reason, the world prefers its leaf MH-free, and our No. 1 competitor, Brazil, trades hard on the fact that it uses no MH in its tobacco production.

It should be noted that at least one company has for some time prohibited MH use among its farmers, with no negative effect. Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. contracts for tobacco grown under an organic program and also for tobacco grown under a no-residue program called PRC. The growers get a premium for leaving out MH and seem happy with the arrangement.