08/06/06 — Tobacco suffers, too

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Tobacco suffers, too

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 6, 2006 2:06 AM

Jake Price and his son Vinson are feeling the heat this summer -- and so is their tobacco.

The Prices and other local farmers said the combination of rising temperatures and spiking gasoline costs has already had a negative impact in the fields and their wallets.

Wayne Sutton runs his operation out of Seven Springs and said he has kept his eye on both the rising cost of gasoline and the thermometer this season.

"The gas prices, I hope they don't bankrupt us," he said. "Every time they go up, we lose profit."

And while many residents can cut back on driving, use public transportation or carpool to save money, Sutton said he doesn't have that luxury. At the farm, he needs gasoline for just about everything -- trucks, tractors, sprayers and other equipment.

The recent heat wave hasn't helped either, Sutton added. While the harvest, for the most part, is still on schedule, the higher the temperature, the less his crew is able to get done.

"We're having to take more breaks," he said. "We're not getting as much done, but we're still working."

Over on Randy McCullen's farm, his crews use a different method to beat the heat whenever possible -- avoidance. They start cropping in the fields early on and move to the shade before temperature's peak, McCullen said.

"We try to get done by about lunch," he said. "It's not too much better in (the barn), but at least it's out of the sun."

Unfortunately for the crop, there's no shade in the fields until the sun sets, McCullen added.

"Even though it's a hot-weather crop, this kind of heat gets to it," he said.

And despite moments of heavy rain in recent weeks, hot, dry air has taken over as of late, McCullen said, putting more stress on the tobacco.

"It seems like it was too wet for a long time," he said. "Now we need some (rain)."

McCullen isn't the only farmer hoping for more normal, consistent weather. The Prices said when the weather changes from one extreme to the other, it damages their tobacco, too.

"In the beginning, it was real wet with cold nights," Jake said. "Then, all of a sudden, the dry and hot stuff set in."

The fickle weather has meant more damage to the crops, he added -- and it's caused more disease, too.

Still, Price said he and his son hope to sell close to 80 percent of their crop, which they expect to be harvested on schedule -- sometime in the middle of October. The only tobacco that has been hurt by the conditions is the less expensive crop, he added.

"If you're going to lose any tobacco, you want it to be the cheaper tobacco," he said.