Too much rain has left tobacco crop uncertain
By Ethan Smith
Published in News on July 16, 2013 1:46 PM
Chris Bland tosses an arm full of tobacco into a container Monday morning on the farm of Jerry and Wayne Sutton near Seven Springs. With a possible break in the rain this week, farmers are hoping to hit their fields to catch up.
Wayne Sutton, co-owner of Sutton Brothers Incorporated in La Grange, conservatively estimates up to 30 percent of his tobacco crop has been lost due to heavy rain. That means a low-weight crop, thinner leaves and a slimmer paycheck when payday comes.
"I don't have a single field that isn't like that one right there," he said, pointing to a waterlogged tobacco field where there was standing water between rows of tobacco.
How much tobacco he is able to harvest hinges on how much rain comes in the next few weeks and how many 95 degree days they have to dry out the tobacco, Sutton said.
"We really don't know just how bad it's going to be," Sutton said. "You can't give up on it until the last leaf has been harvested. I'm making no solid predictions, but we feel sure it won't make what it could've made (without the rain)."
Sutton, 63, who owns the farm with his brother Jerry, said his farm had 16.3 inches of rain in the month of June, and they got nearly four inches of rain in the past four days alone. The ideal rate of rain for tobacco is one inch of rain per week, according to Sutton, and said if the last seven or eight inches of rain never came his farm would be in much better shape.
"Wet weather retards growth (of tobacco), drowns it and makes it thinner so you have a lower weight crop," Sutton said.
Water helps tobacco cure, he said, making for a bright but thin crop which equates to a lower weight crop, and tobacco is sold by the pound. His farm is at least three weeks behind schedule, and is having trouble suckering the tobacco.
"Wind blown, wet tobacco makes it difficult to get an even sucker retardant on the plant," he said. "The tobacco is laying down and the sucker retardant we use can't cover the tobacco evenly."
Usually, the tobacco on the Sutton farm stays in the field until early fall. But this season they are having to harvest the tobacco quicker than ever to ensure the crop isn't lost to rain.
"We've been stretching this until September every year," Sutton said. "But I don't think we'll make it to September this year."
Tobacco isn't the only crop suffering on Sutton's farm.
"We even have some corn that's drowning," he said. "But we're expecting just about as much corn as we've ever made."
Certain tobacco plants on Sutton's farm are flowering, and he'll have to act fast to remove the flowers to prevent sacrificing more pounds of tobacco.
"Topping the flowers means more pounds of tobacco," Sutton said. "If you leave the flowers on it takes on sort of a Christmas tree shape, preventing the top leaves of the plant from filling out."
Despite the misfortune of excess rain, Sutton is remaining positive until the last leaf of tobacco is pulled from the ground.
"I'm fortunate compared to some other people I know who've had up to 20 inches of rain," he said. "Pay day is gonna be mighty short, but I'm thankful we've got what we've got. We'll survive it, always have."