Wet growing season may reduce yield for tobacco farmers

August 19, 2003|EMILY BURTON

STANFORD - Twenty-four years ago, Roy Reichenbach started seeing small brown spots on his tobacco crop. Under the leaves, he found a light dusting of mold. Blue mold soon affected the surrounding plants. It was not a banner year for tobacco at the Reichenbach farm in 1979.

"In '79, we had blue mold bad. I didn't know what it was, and we didn't have the pounds," said Reichenbach.

Now, as Reichenbach walks among the rows of green leaf, he points out signs of blue mold and stunted, yellowing plants, signs of black shank. Out of his back pocket he pulls a red and white pack of Marlboro's, lights up and watches the smoke drift past yellowing plants. He is thinking about the future, about black shank, blue mold and total yield.

"We got too much water too early, and now," said Reichenbach.

Across the county, David Campbell, tobacco farmer and general manager of Sauley Implement, said he is expecting a better crop this season, compared to last year's dry, diseased plants.


"I had a disaster last year," said Campbell. "I lost about a third of it, and then I had some more that wasn't very good. For me it's going to better, I don't know what it will be for others, but for me it's better."

"Our tobacco is prettier than it has ever been," said Johnetta Holtzclaw, who's son, Bill, farms 6 acres.

Farmers have a mighty outlook

Lincoln County tobacco farmers can't seem to come to a consensus about their crop this year, but many have a mighty outlook. It might be a better yield than last year, it might be full of blue mold holes, and it might be too wet to harvest it.

"We're probably looking at a 5-10 percent reduction from several factors - stunting, rain, getting crops in the field late," said Dan Grigson, University of Kentucky extension agent for agriculture in Lincoln County. "We had a long wet spell, they couldn't get in the field."

"We were two weeks later than we wanted to be. It was really too wet when we started, but we felt like we had to. You know farmers," said Reichenbach. Reichenbach said his 22 acres will yield about 10 percent less than last season, due to rain, a late start, and soil compaction due to excess water.

"Tobacco likes hot, humid weather, but not too much water," said Reichenbach. "We had soil compaction that made it hold the water more."

"This spring has hurt everybody that's farming," said Jeff Morris, who expects a 5 percent yield reduction this season, due to weather and disease.

The continuing wet season has encouraged blue mold growth with rain puddling in fields, causing an uneven crop.

"We've had an outbreak of blue fungus here in the last couple weeks. It blows in on rain showers out of the south. If it gets severe enough, the whole leaf could fall off," said Grigson. "We could still have really significant damage from blue mold."

Ronnie Cooper, owner of Cooper Farm and Home Supply in Hustonville, said the mold has affected many farmers' crops this year, including his.

"It seems to be bad in this area. We have been selling a lot of chemicals for it," said Cooper. "I think we are going to have a pretty good crop," he adds. "It ain't a great crop, but it's a decent one."

Wet weather still could affect their bottom lines

Now as some farmers begin cutting their crops, their bottom lines could still be affected by wet weather.

"The way the weather patterns have been this year, if it continues, it could be a big problem, getting crops out of the field. That's my concern," said Morris. "If we have excess moisture during the curing process, it will damage the yield."

Whether or not the tobacco crop draws much needed profits this year is yet to be seen, though blue mold and black shank have hit some harder than others. Despite disease and muddy fields, hope still abounds among Lincoln County tobacco farmers, including Reichenbach.

"We're going to be close," he said, "but it's better than I thought it would be."

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