Jason Elliot had one of his best stands to grow burley tobacco until the rains started. Five days and seven inches of rain later, about a quarter of his crop was destroyed, cutting thousands of dollars from his salary when he drags his leaf on the market for several months.
All tobacco fields were wet country, and without a good stretch of dry weather in the coming weeks, Elliott predicament can play many times. In Kentucky alone, the second leading producer countries, the death toll could hit as much as $ 100 million if the crop does not rebound. More than half of the crop top producer of North Carolina is in danger.
It threatens to be the final blow to the agriculture sector, which experienced a sluggish prices, higher production costs and uncertain markets due to smoking bans.
In Kentucky, the thunderstorms that began two days before Independence Day, and continued at the weekend caused the tobacco plants to wilt and collapse about a month before Burley harvest is in full swing. Some of the plants in the Lincoln County Farm Elliott fell sharply, barely boot top high. The rest were, but looked painful.
“It just got real pale color to it,” said Elliott. “He does not have good green tobacco that it should have.”
The damage was severe in south-central Kentucky, Prime Burley tobacco region, where as much as 60% to 80% of the crop has suffered, said Bob Pierce, University of Kentucky extension specialist Burley.
“This is the most common and a significant amount of damage I’ve seen from a single event like this,” Pierce said. “The number of (damage) reports that I’m getting this kind of unprecedented. This was a game-changer.”
Kentucky is the nation’s leading producer of burley tobacco, an ingredient of many cigarettes. Based on last year’s prices, rainfall could reduce state output by 30%, said Pierce.
Rain gauges were overcrowded and in North Carolina, where the flue-cured tobacco reigns.
Kent Revels, which grows flue-cured tobacco in Harnett County, North Carolina, said he measured more than 30 inches of rain since May 1, from 17 June - when the average is just over 3 inches. The rains continued in July.
“We’re doing what we normally do,” said Revels, who farms 260 acres of tobacco. “We’re just fighting with the rain, to do it. I’m not throwing in the towel, but it will be low yield. All depends on what the weather will be from here on out.”
North Carolina farmers planted 170,000 acres of tobacco in 2013, up 5% from 2012, said state Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Long.
In Kentucky, Burley producers have planted about 78,000 acres this year, 4,000 acres more than a year ago, according to the local branch of the National Agricultural Statistics Service in the state.
Tobacco is known as a resilient crop, and the roots can dry out if the rain stops. But so much rain makes for a fine crop that does not weigh as much as it should, and the marketing system is based on dollars per pound.
Regional agronomist Don Nicholson estimated that up to 85% of North Carolina tobacco farmers will be able “to turn this culture around” With a stretch of normal summer temperatures and dry conditions.
“It’s one of the wonderful things about tobacco,” he said. “You cannot expect the plant as long as you do not destroy the crop. This can be very dry, and you will get some rain and you can make a crop. Or it can be very wet and it becomes dry, and put the root system of the plants.”
In Tennessee, the yield will be down from a year ago due to a wet spring and early summer, said Bob Miller, a tobacco researcher for the UK and the University of Tennessee.
“We’ve had a lot more water than tobacco like,” Miller said.
In Virginia, the country’s No. 3 tobacco manufacturers and home to the Marlboro manufacturer Philip Morris USA, rainy conditions to prevent tobacco plants from setting deep roots.
“From the point of view of damage or loss, we did not lose very much. This has been limited,” said David Reed from South Piedmont Virginia Center for Agricultural Research and Extension. “We’re going to be OK, if it is not dry off in August.”
Despite the shallowness of the roots of plants, and having a thin sheet, Virginia has the potential for a good harvest, he said.
The prospect of lower yields in Kentucky Burley comes as farmers hoped to reap some of their highest prices since the 2004 tobacco buyout. Redemption is over a system in which tobacco sold their crop under federal control production and prices since the Great Depression. Tobacco is now mostly grown under contracts between farmers and tobacco companies.
Last year Burghley and dark tobacco crop in Kentucky more than $ 400 million in sales for the first time after purchase. And while the last wave of rainfall, crops this year was not the same potential for Burley prices is expected to be about $ 3 per pound, said UK agricultural economist Will Snell.
For Elliott, the 34-year-old, who farms the land, is looked after by his grandfather and father, tobacco accounts for nearly a third of its income from a diversified operation that includes cattle, corn and soybeans. Although his tobacco suffered from the rain, his corn and soybeans have flourished, and this trend being seen in most parts of Kentucky.
Elliott said he will continue to Burley plant next year, regardless of the outcome this year.
“It was too good to me over the years,” he said. “I can’t just up and quit.”