08/26/09 — Farmers struggle to deal with early tobacco harvest

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Farmers struggle to deal with early tobacco harvest

By Laura Collins
Published in News on August 26, 2009 1:46 PM

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Workers on the farm of Vinson Price near Pricetown remove cured tobacco from barns early today. It takes about a week in the heated barns for the green leaves to cure. Wayne area farmers are about halfway through the tobacco harvest season.

Halfway through the tobacco harvesting season, local farmers are racing the clock.

The increased rainfall in the area recently has caused many of the tobacco plants to ripen early, said Kevin Johnson, field extension agent.

"The quality is good, but we've had a lot of rainfall here lately and that's causing the tobacco to prematurely ripen on the stalk," he said. "The farmers can only handle so much tobacco at a time. The weather is causing the tobacco to ripen and that's a problem. You don't want it all to ripen at the same time."

Johnson said, typically, tobacco is harvested three or four times, beginning with the lower three or four leaves on that stalk and working up. But some farmers are now having to strip the entire stalk.

Some farmers may put some a little extra fertilizer on the crop so it can hold on for an additional week or two, Johnson said.

This year, there are about 10,700 acres of tobacco in Wayne County, which is an increase from last year's 9,490 acres. The county has about 150 tobacco farms.

"It's up about 11 percent from last year, but it's not that there's more demand for tobacco in the U.S. or the world, it's just that there's more consolidation going on. Tobacco from other parts is moving into Wayne County," Johnson said.

Johnson estimated the average pounds of tobacco per acre to be around 2,300, which is an increase from 2,120 in 2008.

"There's some farmers that are going to be doing over 3,000 pounds per acre and there's some that are going to have trouble doing 2,000," he said. "But it should be average to 2,300."

Johnson also said he expects Wayne County to rank third or fourth in production this year. In 2008 the county ranked fifth in the state with a total of 20.1 million pounds. Johnston County was second, Wilson was fourth, Lenior ranked ninth and Greene ranked 10th. Sampson County was in the top spot with more than 25.5 million pounds.

Statewide, the yield per acre is expected to be around 2,350 pounds and production is estimated around 390.1 million pounds, an increase from 2008's 384.8 million.