04/05/07 — Area tobacco, corn growers not too worried about frost

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Area tobacco, corn growers not too worried about frost

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 5, 2007 1:45 PM

Tobacco and corn growers in Wayne County are not too worried about the frost that is forecast for tonight, but are hoping the temperature drop will really just be a snap.

The National Weather Service in Raleigh is predicting lows to dip to 33 degrees tonight. Temperatures are expected to drop as far as 28 degrees Saturday night. Sunday and Monday lows are expected to stay in the 30s.

Tobacco seedlings are normally young enough this time of year to go for another few weeks until late April before they have to go into the ground, N.C. Carolina Cooperative Extension Service crop agent Kevin Johnson said. He said the traditional target date for setting out tobacco seedlings is April 15, but that theoretically, they can wait until early May.

"Usually around the 15th there's a potential scare," Johnson said. "A late season frost can happen up to the first week of May. It does not usually happen, but there's always that potential."

Unseasonably warm weather has accelerated the young plants' growth, and in another week or so, the tobacco plants should be going into the ground, he said.

"If (the frost) was next week, I'd say we have a problem," Johnson said, adding that some of the growers are having to mow their tobacco seedlings every day because the weather has been so warm. Normally, he added, they only have to mow their tobacco a couple times a week.

Paul Daw is among the many Wayne farmers who are having to mow seedlings, which are floating atop water in greenhouses. The farmers mount mowers on booms and move them across the tops of the plants, shortening them to the desired height. Fans run constantly to keep the plants as dry as possible on top.

Daw's greenhouse is 200 feet long and holds 100 acres worth of seedlings.

"It's been a good season for tobacco in the greenhouse thus far," Daw said Wednesday afternoon while Jesse Lopez mounted the mower for one more pass across the tops of the seedlings.

Daw said he needs to be transplanting his tobacco in the fields at least by April 15, weather permitting.

Clipping the seedlings is not the best thing for them health-wise, Johnson said. Little pieces of tobacco fall back down into the seedling bed, increasing the chance of disease.

Daw is holding off on planting corn until after the cold snap.

Some farmers have already planted a little corn but have stopped for the cold and will resume after the nights warm up again.

Johnson said the ground's cold temperature will keep the corn that already has been planted from germinating.

"Rather than coming up in three or four days, (the young corn plants) will take more like six days," he said.

A frost would kill the top part of a corn plant, but the bud is under the ground until the plant reaches 12 inches tall. Then, the bud is above ground and vulnerable to frost.

"It would burn off the top and delay the season. It's still a bad thing, just not a total loss," Johnson said.

And while most of the corn plants in the fields are young enough they won't be hurt, he said the tobacco seedlings are getting too big to stay in the greenhouses much longer.

"Next week a lot of tobacco will go out in the field," Johnson said. "There's some corn out there now, but it will really start rocking and rolling then."

That's the life of a farmer, Daw added. Everything depends on the weather.

"Every year it's something else," he said. "But with help from Kevin and the good Lord, we'll make it."