Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Tobacco crop exceeds expectations

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE. — First came bad weather, downpours that delayed tobacco setting and later swept away some plants. Then blue mold attacked, picking away at the potential harvest.

        Even so, Kentucky's burley crop has turned out better than expected and could fetch a strong price this fall, two tobacco experts said.

        Gary Palmer, extension tobacco specialist at the University of Kentucky, marveled at the resilience of the crop that farmers are now hauling from fields to barns, a late-summer ritual across Kentucky.

        “It's an excellent crop, considering how it started,” he said. “I think farmers are pretty happy with how the crop turned out.”

        Excessive spring rain held up setting in parts of Kentucky and kept some plants from developing strong roots, making them more susceptible to disease and drought. Gulley-washers late in the season swept away some plants before they could be cut.

        In between, blue mold took a toll, reducing the crop by perhaps 4 million pounds.

        But the burley that survived should prove rewarding for its growers, UK agricultural economist Will Snell said.

        “It looks like the world's supply and demand for burley tobacco is getting more in line,” he said. “So we expect a good sales season coming up, as long as the quality holds up during the curing season.”

        As of Sunday, 28 percent of the state's burley crop had been cut, compared with 30 percent a year ago, according to a weekly crop report Monday by the Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service.

        Of the burley still in the fields, slightly more than three-fourths was rated in good or excellent condition, according to the report. Another 17 percent was considered fair and 5 percent was poor or very poor.

        Farmers across the Burley Belt are expected to produce 363.5 million pounds of leaf this year, virtually unchanged from a year ago, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture projection.

        Kentucky generally produces about 70 percent of the nation's burley tobacco, Mr. Snell said.


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