ID-160 - College of Agriculture - University of Kentucky

ID-160 - College of Agriculture - University of Kentucky
Burley and Dark Tobacco
Production Guide
A cooperative effort of the following institutions:
PB 1782
Competing in a Global Marketplace ......................................................................................................2
Selecting Burley Tobacco Varieties .........................................................................................................3
Choosing Dark Tobacco Varieties............................................................................................................7
Management of Tobacco Float Systems.............................................................................................. 10
Field Selection and Soil Preparation..................................................................................................... 22
Fertilization.................................................................................................................................................... 26
Topping and Sucker Control Management....................................................................................... 29
Harvest Management for Burley and Dark Tobacco...................................................................... 36
Facilities and Curing................................................................................................................................... 37
Stripping and Preparation of Tobacco for Market........................................................................... 43
Burley Harvest and Stripping Mechanization.................................................................................. 47
TSNAs in Burley and Dark Tobacco..................................................................................................... 49
Weed Management.................................................................................................................................... 54
Disease Management................................................................................................................................. 57
Insect Pest Management........................................................................................................................... 63
Safety and Health in Tobacco Production.......................................................................................... 66
Appendix I: Worker Protection Standard Checklist...................................................................... 69
Appendix II: Some Generic Insecticides by Active Ingredient.................................................. 70
University of Kentucky
Virginia Tech University
Bob Pearce, Editor
Andy Bailey, Co-Editor
David Reed
Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences
Lowell Bush, J.D. Green, Anne Jack,
Bob Miller
Plant and Soil Sciences
Chuck Johnson
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science
Will Snell
Agricultural Economics
North Carolina State University
Lee Townsend
Mark Purschwitz, Larry Swetnam,
John Wilhoit
Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering
Loren Fisher, Matthew Vann, Scott Whitley
Crop Science
Mina Mila
Plant Pathology
Cover photo: Matt Barton
University of Tennessee
Eric Walker, Co-Editor
Plant Sciences
Steve Bost
Entomology and Plant Pathology
Neil Rhodes
Plant Sciences
Mention or display of a trademark, proprietary
product, or firm in text or figures does not constitute
an endorsement and does not imply approval to the
exclusion of other suitable products or firms.
Bob Pearce, Andy Bailey, and Eric Walker
urley and dark tobacco growers in the U.S. make hundreds
of decisions every growing season that impact the yield
and quality of the crops that they produce. These decisions
may include choosing appropriate varieties, planning effective
pest control measures or perhaps deciding the best time to
top or harvest a crop. Increasingly, tobacco growers are being
required by the industry to record and justify their management decisions and actions. The most comprehensive example
of this is the U.S. Tobacco Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)
program that was initiated during the 2013 growing season
and expanded in 2014. Under this program, all growers who
sell tobacco to GAP Connections member organizations are
required to attend training sessions on the principals of GAP
and to keep detailed records of their production practices.
Training requirements may change, but growers are currently
required to attend training every season in which they plan to
sell tobacco. Additional information about U.S. Tobacco GAP
can be found by contacting GAP Connections.
The written U.S. Tobacco GAP guidelines often refer growers
to “University Tobacco Production Guides” for specific recommendations regarding management decisions. The informa-
tion and recommendations provided in this guide have been
developed and reviewed by tobacco production specialists and
scientists at the University of Kentucky, University of Tennessee,
Virginia Tech, and North Carolina State University. The purpose
of this multi-state guide is to provide all burley and dark tobacco
growers with the most current research-based recommendations for the production of high-yielding, high-quality tobacco.
The guide provides advice on industry-accepted practices that
may be applied across the burley and dark tobacco growing
regions, although in some cases, growers may be referred to
their local extension offices for additional information relevant
to their specific situation.
GAP Connections
2450 E.J. Chapman Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996-001
Office: 865.622.4606
Fax: 865.622.4550
Email: [email protected]
Competing in a Global Marketplace
Will Snell
.S. tobacco producers face a lot of challenges in today’s
marketing environment; consequently producers must
attempt to gain any competitive advantage in combating the
challenges from international competitors and an overall declining marketplace. Historically, U.S. tobacco producers competed
primarily on price and quality. Because of its taste and aromas,
U.S. tobacco has always been viewed as the best quality tobacco
produced in the world. However, the U.S. quality advantage
has narrowed in recent decades with improved production
practices overseas and as tobacco manufacturers have been able
to utilize a higher volume of lower quality leaf in their blends.
Price, of course, remains a critical factor in determining
purchasing decisions by tobacco companies. During the early
years of the federal tobacco program, U.S. tobacco growers
had pricing power, the quality advantage and limited foreign
competition, but over the years of the tobacco program, U.S.
policymakers had to adjust federal price supports and other
policy variables to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. leaf in
domestic and global markets. Today, without the support of a
federal tobacco program, the level and variability of prices are
determined by the tobacco manufacturers and dealers based on
current supply and demand conditions. Given the increasing
concentration in the number of buyers in today’s global tobacco
market place, tobacco companies have an enhanced degree of
market power in establishing prices and controlling production
In years with excess demand (as the U.S. burley sector experienced during much of the early post-buyout era), tobacco
prices will be relatively higher with limited variation, and noncontract growers and auction markets can survive and often do
particularly well regardless of leaf quality. Alternatively, in years
when the global leaf supply is greater than demand, tobacco
prices will tend to fall, be very volatile, and be vulnerable to lower
quality leaf, especially lower quality leaf that is sold outside the
contracting system.
Although price is still the single most critical factor in determining competitiveness, today’s buying segment is looking
more at “value,” which includes both price and quality of leaf but
also some intangible factors referred to as social responsibility.
Today’s tobacco companies are being challenged on many fronts
given the health risks associated with their products along with
the general public’s perception of the industry. In response to
critics, tobacco companies are attempting (or perhaps being
regulated) to be more transparent about their products, and
they are focusing on issues of their contract growers such as
child labor and various environmental issues. In reality, today’s
tobacco product marketplace challenge is the ability to manufacture and deliver reduced-risk tobacco products to a declining
consumer base amid a critical (and often times divided) public
health community and government and global bodies calling for
increased regulations. This situation will undoubtedly impact
tobacco growers through the demand for their leaf as well as
their production practices, ultimately impacting grower’s price,
production levels, costs of production and thus profitability.
As a result of this changing marketplace, tobacco growers
are being called upon to keep better and more detailed records
about their production practices. Although recordkeeping
represents a cost in terms of time and labor, it may become a
competitive advantage for U.S. growers if tobacco buyers and
ultimately tobacco consumers place value on this activity in
reducing health risks and enhancing the social responsibilities
of the tobacco companies.
Most farmers value their independence and are reluctant
to change. But this highly regulated tobacco product market
will result in changes in the composition and types of tobacco
products, which will require closer scrutiny by tobacco companies on how the leaf they purchase is produced. Consequently,
future tobacco production will likely continue to be marketed
under contractual agreements with more company control over
inputs and production practices.
Required production changes in this volatile and competitive
marketplace will force growers to closely monitor their changing
cost structure and make critical investment decisions. In addition it becomes vital to improve communication flow from the
company to the grower and from the grower to the company,
outlining clear expectations and outcomes.
Surviving this new tobacco marketing environment will be
a challenge. Intense international competition at much lower
cost structures coupled with concentration in the buying sector
will likely result in limited grower price growth in the future.
To survive, U.S. growers must be willing to adapt to a changing
product market, produce high quality leaf with reduced health
risks, and find ways to constrain the growth or ideally to reduce
their cost structure. Growers can achieve these desired results
by adopting many of the recommendations in this production
Selecting Burley Tobacco Varieties
Bob Pearce, Bob Miller, Eric Walker, Matthew Vann, and Scott Whitley
Table 1. Survival of selected burley tobacco varieties in fields
heavily infested with race 0 and race 1 black shank (2012-2014)
ariety selection is important to minimize disease incidence
and severity and to suit the growth characteristics desired
by individual producers. With contracting the norm for marketing burley tobacco, the needs of the contracting companies
must be considered. Growers need to be aware of the wording specific to their contract and be sure to obtain seed that
meets the requirements for seed screening. The seed screening
process is intended to help reduce the possible accumulation
of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNA) during curing and
storage of cured tobacco.
Perhaps the most important consideration when choosing a
burley tobacco variety is black shank resistance, given the widespread incidence of this disease throughout the burley growing
regions in the U.S. At one time, growers were forced to choose
between good resistance and the highest potential yields. This
is no longer the case, as variety improvements have resulted in
resistant varieties with yields comparable to the best yielding
black shank–susceptible varieties. The degree of resistance and
the specific type of resistance offered by a variety may make a
difference, depending on which race of black shank is predominant in a particular field. In fields where black shank has been
observed, it is generally best to assume that both races are present and to choose a variety with a good level of race 1 resistance,
unless it is known that only race 0 is active in those areas.
Table 1 shows the relative survival of selected varieties in
nurseries heavily affected by both race 0 and race 1 black shank.
Note that year-to-year variation in survival and performance
can be quite high. Even highly resistant varieties can suffer
significant losses in years when weather is conducive to black
shank. In most situations, soil-applied fungicides will be necessary to achieve the best results under heavy black shank pressure. (See Pest Management section for best-use guidelines.)
In addition to disease resistance, characteristics like handling,
stalk diameter, growth habits, yield, and quality are important
selection criteria for a variety. Many of the new black shank–
resistant varieties are capable of producing high yields (Figure
1, Table 2), and under high rainfall conditions can produce a
KT 209LC
KT 210LC
KT 204LC
KT 206LC
HP 3307PLC
N 7371LC
HB 4488PLC
KT 212LC
Hybrid 404LC
KY 14 X L8LC
Seasonal Avg.
Black Shank % Survival
large stalk diameter and heavy plants compared to older varieties. Some varieties are said to perform better under stress than
others; however, tolerance to drought and excess moisture (wet
feet) are difficult to assess, and observations are often skewed
by maturity differences at the onset of extreme weather conditions. However, producers must consider that weather patterns
change from year to year. Therefore, variety selection should be
based mainly on disease history of the site with other characteristics considered secondary.
In recent years, there has been increasing focus on the
production of quality tobacco and how it is affected by variety
selection. While quality is somewhat subjective, the grade index
does provide a quantifiable measure of leaf quality. The grade
index is based on the old federal grading system and assigns
a value to each of the grades. A higher grade index indicates
higher quality. Some may argue that the federal grading system
is outdated, but in recent comparisons, the relative differences
in grade index were similar to the difference in quality ratings
of major tobacco companies.
Laurel Springsb
Figure 1. Three-year (2011-2013) average yield (11 total location/years)
of selected burley tobacco varieties grown in the absence of black shank
pressure. Varieties are listed in order from highest to lowest yield.
Cured Leaf Yield (lb/A)
Hy 20
id LC
HB 10
33 LC
KY 04P
14 LC
Figure 2. Three-year average (2011-2013) of grade index (9 total location/
years) for selected burley tobacco varieties. Grade index is a numerical
ranking of quality based on the federal grading system, a higher grade index
indicates better quality.
Hy 20
br 4L
HB 10
33 LC
KY 04P
14 LC
The following are descriptions of the newest and
most popular burley tobacco varieties. Information
on additional varieties not listed below can be found
in Table 3.
KT 212LC is an early-maturing, high-yielding variety.
On a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 being complete resistance, it has a rating of 10 to race 0 black shank and
medium resistance (rating of 4) to race 1. It is the only
commercially available variety with early maturity,
high yield potential and a significant level of resistance to race 1 black shank. In university variety trials,
KT 212LC flowers at about the same time as KY 14 x
L8LC. It has high resistance to black root rot, wildfire,
and tobacco mosaic virus, but is not resistant to the
virus complex. It has medium resistance to Fusarium
wilt. Cured leaf quality has been good. This variety
will be a good choice for growers who would like to
have an early-maturing variety for early harvest, but
can’t successfully grow KY 14 x L8LC or other earlyto medium-maturing varieties because of race 1 black
shank. However, it is very important to remember
that this variety has only medium resistance to race
1, and will not perform nearly as well as KT 209LC,
KT 206LC, or KT 210LC in fields with high race 1
pressure. Much like TN 90LC, it will perform well in
race 1-infested fields only if good rotation practices
Rocky Mount
KT 200 LC
KT 204 LC
KT 206 LC
KT 209 LC
KT 210 LC
KT 212 LCc
TN 90 LC
TN 97 LC
HB 3307 LC
HB 4488 LCc
R 610 LC
R 630 LC
a 2012 results not included.
b 2013 results not included.
c One year of results, varieties added in 2013.
Grade Index
Variety Descriptions
Table 2. Performance of commercial varieties in the North Carolina official
variety test at individual locations from 2010-2013
While there are some differences in varieties with
regard to leaf quality, the differences are typically
small (Figure 2, Table 2), with a range of only about
8 points on the grade index between varieties over
three years of testing at four locations. Five varieties
(KT 204LC, KT 206LC, TN 90LC, NC 7LC, and KY
14 x L8LC) were compared for grade index across
four different studies at each of two locations in
Tennessee. The largest difference in leaf quality was
observed between curing locations with a range of 29
points on the grade index. The next most important
factor in grade index was management, specifically
the date of harvest and location of tobacco within
the curing barn, with a range of 14 points. Variety
had the least influence on grade index with an overall
range of 2 points between varieties within a particular
management and curing location. It should be noted
that in these studies, varieties were harvested at the
same time and cured under the same conditions. It
is well known that curing conditions for burley normally become less favorable in late fall as opposed to
early fall. To the extent that later-maturing varieties
will generally be harvested on farms later than early
ones, on average they will have less favorable curing
conditions. This is especially true for late-maturing
varieties planted in mid-to-late June that are not
harvested until October, when cool, dry conditions
often prevail. It is important to note that the resulting differences in quality are due to harvest date and
curing weather, not direct variety differences.
are followed and soil fungicides Table 3. 2015 New and Selecteda Burley Tobacco Varieties—Relative Disease Resistance, Yield
Scores, and Maturity.
are used.
KT 210LC is a late-maturing,
Black Shank
Fusarium Yield
high-yielding variety with good
RACE 0 RACE 1 Complex Rot
Scoreb Maturity
black shank resistance and modms KY 14 X L8LC
erate resistance to Fusarium
KY 907LC
wilt. It has a race 0 resistance
KT 200LC
of 10 and a race 1 resistance
KT 204LC
of 7. Fusarium resistance is
KT 206LCe
thought to be about a 5, which
KT 209LC
KT 210LC
is comparable to NC 7LC and
KT 212LC
KY 14 x L8LC. Fusarium wilt is
a soilborne fungal disease that
is present in some tobacco-proNC 7LCd
ducing regions, primarily along
NC 2000LCf
river bottoms. The problem is
NC 2002LCf
particularly severe for growers
who have both Fusarium wilt
TN 90LCe
and race 1 black shank present
in their soils (see Pest ManHYBRID 404LC
agement section). KT 210LC
is the first burley variety with
N 126LC
moderate to high race 1 black
N 777LC
shank resistance and moderate
N 7371LC
Fusarium wilt resistance. It also
has high resistance to black root
rot, wildfire, and tobacco mosaic
virus, but it is susceptible to the
R 610LC
virus complex. This variety can
R 630LC
get very tall and produce a large
number of leaves if topped in
a For an extensive list of varieties go to
mid- to late bloom. Topping b
Relative yield scores are based on growth under disease-free conditions.
in the bud or very early bloom c Based on a limited number of field tests and subject to change.
stage is recommended for this d Resistant to root knot nematode (Meloidogyne incognita, Races 1 and 3).
KT 210LC. Cured leaf quality e Low resistance to blue mold (Peronospora tabacina).
f Medium resistance to blue mold (Peronospora tabacina).
has been good.
– Resistance not rated for this disease.
KT 209LC is a medium-latematuring, high-yielding variety
with superior black shank resistance. It has the highest available KT 206LC also has more resistance to blue mold (3 level) than
resistance to both races of black shank. It has a race 0 resistance any other black shank–resistant variety but has no resistance
of 10 and a race 1 resistance of 8. Note that even though the to Fusarium wilt and may perform poorly in areas where this
resistance to black shank is relatively high in KT 209LC, it is disease has become established. This variety can grow quite
not immune to race 1 (Table 1). In areas with heavy race 1 black large and produces a large stalk, making it difficult for some
shank pressure, fungicides are still recommended for KT 209LC crews to handle at harvest time. Some growers have expressed
(see Pest Management section). It also has high resistance to concern about the cured leaf color of KT 206LC; however, it
black root rot, wildfire, tobacco mosaic virus, and tobacco etch must be recognized that the two curing seasons following its
virus. It lacks the blue mold tolerance of KT 206LC and has no release were very dry, leading to a situation of quick curing
resistance to Fusarium wilt. Yield potential, stalk size, growth and a tendency for bright-colored leaf regardless of the variety
habit, and maturity are similar to KT 206LC and KT 204LC. grown. Like any other variety, cured leaf quality of KT 206LC
Cured leaf quality is comparable to TN 90LC.
will improve when adequate moisture is available during the
KT 206LC is a medium-late-maturing variety with high yield curing season. Results from university variety trials show little
potential (Figure 1) and a good overall disease package including difference in quality between KT 206LC and older varieties
good resistance to both races of black shank. It has a 10 level when harvested at the same time and cured under the same
resistance to race 0 of the black shank pathogen and a 7 level conditions (Figure 2, Table 2).
resistance to race 1. With most burley growing regions now KT 204LC is a medium-late-maturing, high-yielding variety
reporting the presence of race 1 in combination with race 0, with good black shank resistance. It quickly became a popular
KT 206LC performs well in a variety of black shank situations, variety when it was released in 2004 because it offered improvebut not as well as KT 209LC under the most severe infestations. ments in disease resistance and quality compared to older
varieties, but it should not be expected to perform as well as
KT 209LC against black shank, especially if race 0 is present in
high levels. KT 204LC has no resistance to Fusarium wilt. It is
not as tolerant to blue mold as KT 206LC or TN 90LC, but not
as susceptible as Hybrid 404LC. KT 204LC tends to grow slowly
early in the season, which may discourage producers initially,
but its growth in the latter part of the season generally makes
up for the slow start. This characteristic can make this variety
more susceptible to late-season drought.
TN 90LC, a medium-maturing variety with moderately high
yield potential, has dropped in popularity due to increases in the
use of the new “KT” varieties. Released in 1990, TN 90LC offers
a broad range of important characteristics. TN 90LC became
a popular variety due to a good disease resistance package, including moderate resistance to black shank, some tolerance to
blue mold, black root rot resistance, and resistance to common
virus diseases. TN 90LC still has a small but loyal following due
to its agronomic characteristics, including small stalk diameter,
upright growth (ease of handling), and good cured-leaf color.
Though it does not have the yield potential of some of the new
varieties, TN 90LC can produce relatively high yields (Figure
2). Some growers prefer the smaller size and ease of handling
with TN 90LC and are willing to accept lower yield potential.
In addition to blue mold tolerance, it has level 4 resistance to
both races of black shank and high root rot resistance. Its lack of
Fusarium wilt resistance is a concern in areas where Fusarium
has become widely established.
KY 14 x L8LC continues to decline in popularity due to improvements in new varieties, increased incidence of race 1 black
shank, and the extra management required to produce high
yields and good quality. It is an early-maturing, short, spreading
type of tobacco. Leaves droop to the extent that leaf breakage
can be excessive under certain conditions. In addition, leaves
appear to be more brittle than most varieties, making KY 14 x
L8LC a poor choice for mechanical harvest or for farmers using
unskilled laborers for harvest. It has fewer leaves than most varieties but compensates by producing larger leaves. Stalk diameter
is small to medium. Yields are high in fields with no race 1 black
shank. Quality can be excellent under proper management. KY
14 x L8LC initiates sucker growth sooner than most other varieties, making early topping a must. Delayed topping increases
sucker development and may make sucker control more difficult. Best results are achieved when KY 14 x L8LC is harvested
three to four weeks after topping. Delayed harvest may increase
sucker control problems and reduce cured leaf quality. KY 14 x
L8LC has high resistance to race 0 (10 level) of the black shank
pathogen, but no resistance to race 1. The presence of race 1 in
many areas has forced producers to abandon KY 14 x L8LC in
favor of varieties with resistance to both races. Damage by the
virus complex can be severe where virus pressure is high. KY
14 x L8LC may yield poorly if planted in an area with high black
root rot pressure. KY 14 x L8LC does have moderate resistance
to Fusarium wilt; however, many tobacco growers have realized
that KY 14 x L8LC no longer serves their needs as it once did.
HB 04PLC is a variety from F.W. Rickard Seed Inc. with high
yield potential in fields free of black shank. HB 04PLC is resistant to black root rot and mosaic virus but has no resistance
to black shank. It has medium-early maturity, large leaves, and
an average-sized stalk diameter. Cured leaf quality is generally
good. It is a good choice for growers who have no black shank
and need a high-yielding variety that matures earlier than the
“KT” varieties.
HB 3307PLC, a variety from F.W. Rickard Seed Inc. is a latematuring variety with a good yield potential and quality. It has
high resistance to race 0 black shank and medium resistance to
race 1. HB 3307PLC is resistant to black root rot but has been
found to be susceptible to tobacco mosaic virus. Yield potential
of this variety is high but perhaps not quite as high as HB 04PLC
or Hybrid 404LC in fields free of black shank. It does not have
as large a stalk and plant size as some of the other new varieties.
HB4488PLC is a new variety from F.W. Rickard Seed Inc. It is
a late-maturing variety with a high yield potential and quality at least equal to other popular burley varieties. It has high
resistance to race 0 black shank and medium resistance to race
1. Field observations indicate a moderately large plant with
relatively heavy bodied leaves and a spreading growth habit
that is not as upright as “KT” varieties.
Hybrid 404LC, is a medium-maturing variety from Clay’s Seed
Inc. It has a high yield potential similar to Hybrid 403LC, but it
also has black root rot resistance, making it more suitable than
Hybrid 403LC for second-year tobacco or in rotation behind
legume crops. Hybrid 404LC does not have black shank resistance or virus complex resistance, so it should only be grown
in fields that are known to be free of black shank. It appears to
have generally good quality.
N 7371LC, released by Newton Seed Inc., has demonstrated
fair resistance to black shank early in the season in some areas,
but tests indicate that the resistance does not hold up later in the
season. However, this variety will perform well under low black
shank pressure. Growers planning to use this variety in fields
with a black shank history should plan on also using fungicides.
N 7371LC is a very late-maturing variety with a high number of
long but narrow leaves and good quality. Topping may be slower
than comparable varieties due to the smaller upright leaves in
the top of the plant at topping time.
NC 2002LC is a medium-late maturing blue mold-resistant
variety. It has very little resistance to other major diseases like
black shank or black root rot. It is a higher yielding variety than
NC 2000 but does not have the yield potential of high-yielding
varieties like Hybrid 404, NC 7, HB 04PLC, or the “KT” varieties. It has very little disease resistance of any kind except to blue
NC 7LC is a late-maturing variety with high resistance to race
0 black shank, and low-to-medium resistance to race 1. Otherwise, NC 7LC has a good disease resistance package, including
resistance to black root rot, Fusarium wilt, tobacco mosaic virus,
and wildfire. It has a big, robust growth habit with a large stalk
diameter. Handling may be difficult under conditions that increase plant size (plant populations under 7,500 plants/A). NC
7 is unique among the burley varieties listed here in that it has
resistance to root knot nematode and tobacco cyst nematode.
Nematode problems are rare in the U.S. burley growing areas
and tend to occur on sandy soils. Yields are expected to be high
under ideal conditions, and quality is expected to be good. Avoid
areas where race 1 incidence is high. NC 7LC may be a good
solution where Fusarium wilt incidence is high. However, if race
1 black shank pressure is also expected to be high, KT 210LC is
a better choice due to higher race 1 resistance.
Choosing Dark Tobacco Varieties
Andy Bailey and Bob Miller
actors to consider when Table 1. Characteristics of dark tobacco varieties.
selecting a dark tobacco
Black Shank
Relative Relative Black
Quality Root
variety include resistance to
Maturity Race 0 Race 1 Useb Scorec
TMVd Wildfire
black shank and other diseases,
quality, maturity and holdTR Madole
None None
ability, and yield potential.
Lit Crit
None None
Handling characteristics like
KY 160
stalk diameter and growth
KY 171e
habit may also be important.
DF 911
Maturity, holdability after topVA 309
VA 359
ping, and performance for early
TN D950
and late transplanting are espeKT D6LC
cially important when selectKT
ing varieties for double-crop,
fire-curing. Growers should
DT 538 LC
adhere to contract specificaDT 558LC
tions for use of screened or LC
PD 7302LCe Medium
varieties, and some buyers may
PD 7305LC
even specify or suggest which
PD 7309LC
None None
PD 7312LC
varieties to use.
PD 7318LC
Resistance to black shank
PD 7319LC
may be the most important
a Black shank resistance levels are based on a limited number of field tests and subject to change.
factor for many dark tobacco b
F or A refers to use as a fire-cured or air-cured variety. F/A indicates either use with predominant
growers. Although resistance
use given first.
has improved in recent years, c Relative yield scores based on performance under disease-free conditions. Relative yield and
most dark tobacco varieties do
quality scores given on a 0-10 scale, with 10 being best for the predominant use.
not have black shank resistance d Dash (-) means that resistance level is unknown or not rated at present.
that is comparable to many e KY 171, PD 7302LC, and PD 7312LC have medium resistance to Fusarium wilt.
modern burley varieties. Levels
of race 1 black shank continue
to increase throughout the dark tobacco region, and varieties Variety Descriptions
with at least some resistance to race 1 black shank should be Narrowleaf Madole LC is still one of the more popular dark toused in fields where black shank is known to exist. The use of bacco varieties grown. It can be used as a fire-cured or air-cured
fungicides is also recommended with any dark tobacco vari- variety and has medium-late maturity with good yield (3,200
ety transplanted into fields with a history of black shank (see lb/A) and cured leaf quality. It is known for its excellent curing
the Chemicals for Disease Management section for best-use characteristics. Narrowleaf Madole LC has a very prostrate
guidelines). Higher use rates and/or multiple applications are growth habit with long, drooping leaves and a smooth leaf texrecommended for fields where black shank is known to exist. ture. Narrowleaf Madole LC also has excellent holdability and
Consider using burley in fields with significant black shank levels can typically remain in the field longer after topping than any
if tobacco must be grown. A four-year rotation with at least one other variety before harvesting. However, it is somewhat more
year of grass the year prior to tobacco is recommended. Dark prone to leaf breakage at harvest due to its prostrate nature. It
tobacco should not be grown in the same field for two consecu- generally does not perform well when transplanted early (prior
tive years.
to May 15) when cool, damp conditions commonly occur, and
Agronomic characteristics of dark tobacco varieties may therefore is usually not a good choice for first cures transplanted
vary between years and locations. Table 1 provides information early for double-crop curing. Narrowleaf Madole LC has no
about specific varieties under normal growing conditions. The disease resistance.
following descriptions are based on observations and results TR Madole is typically used as a fire-cured variety. It has earlyfrom replicated variety trials conducted under different envi- to-medium maturity with good yield (3,100 lb/A) and fair cured
ronments across Western Kentucky and Tennessee over the leaf quality characteristics. It has a very prostrate growth habit
past several years (Tables 2 and 3). Yield potentials listed are an and is an easy-curing variety similar to Narrowleaf Madole. TR
average yield across several trials and seasons, but actual yields Madole has very characteristic rounded top leaves with a fairly
may vary. The disease resistance indicated can be expected if smooth, open-textured leaf surface, which makes it somewhat
disease pressure is present.
well suited to cigar-wrapper style markets. TR Madole has no
disease resistance.
Little Crittenden is typically an Table 2. Yield and quality grade indexa for 2012-2013 dark fire-cured variety trials at Princeton
air-cured variety but also performs and Murray, KY, and Springfield, TN
Princeton KY
Murray KY
Springfield TN
well as a fire-cured variety. It has
medium-to-late maturity with fair
yield (3,000 lb/A) but excellent
cured leaf quality. Little Crittenden
NL Madole LC
has a semi-erect growth habit with
VA 309
long leaves that have considerable
TN D950
crinkle and fairly coarse texture. It
DT 538LC
DT 558LC
has very good curing characteristics
PD 7302LC
and excellent holdability similar to
PD 7305LC
Narrowleaf Madole. Little CrittenPD 7309LC
den has no disease resistance.
PD 7312LC
NS (Neil Smith) Madole is a firePD 7318LC
cured, more minor variety that is
PD 7319LC
used for cigar-wrapper style marKT D6LC
kets. It has a prostrate growth habit
similar to Narrowleaf Madole LC
but earlier maturity and a more a Yield and quality grade index data averaged over 2012 and 2013 for Murray and Springfield.
Princeton data from 2013 only. Quality grade index is a 0-100 numerical representation of
open-textured smooth leaf surface,
somewhat like TR Madole. NS b federal grade received and is a weighted average of all stalk positions.
Average yield across locations and varieties was 3051 lb/A in 2012 (Murray and Springfield
Madole has excellent leaf quality
only) and 3363 lb/A in 2013. Average quality grade index across locations and varieties was
but only fair yield potential (3,000
57.5 in 2012 (Murray and Springfield only) and 58.1 in 2013.
lb/A). NS Madole has no disease
KY 160 is a minor air-cured va- Table 3. Yield and quality grade indexa for 2012-2013 dark air-cured variety trials at Princeton
riety with medium maturity and and Murray, KY, and Springfield, TNb
relatively low yield potential (2,600
Princeton KY
Murray KY
Springfield TN
lb/A) but excellent cured leaf qualYield
ity. It has a semi-erect growth habit
with long, narrow leaves and very
NL Madole LC
smooth leaf texture. KY 160 has
Lit Crittenden
high resistance to tobacco mosaic
KY 171
VA 359
KY 171 is an air-cured or fireDT 538LC
cured variety with medium maDT 558LC
PD 7302LC
turity and good yield (3,100 lb/A)
PD 7309LC
and cured leaf quality. It has a
PD 7312LC
semi-erect growth habit with coarse
PD 7318LC
leaf texture and good curing charPD 7319LC
acteristics. KY 171 has high resisKT D6LC
tance to black root rot and tobacco
mosaic virus, medium resistance to
Fusarium wilt, and performs better a Yield and quality grade index data averaged over 2012 and 2013 for each location. Quality
than many other varieties when
grade index is a 0-100 numerical representation of federal grade received and is a weighted
average of all stalk positions. Quality grade index data from Princeton and Murray is from
transplanted early (prior to May 15).
KY 171 can be a good choice for first b 2013 only.
Average yield across locations and varieties was 3113 lb/A in 2012 and 2768 lb/A in 2013.
cures transplanted in early May for
Average quality grade index across locations and varieties was 24.8 in 2012 (Springfield only)
double-crop, fire-curing, provided
and 31.8 in 2013.
that black shank is not a concern.
DF 911 is a minor fire-cured variety but may also work relatively well as an air-cured variety. It VA 309 can be used as an air-cured or fire-cured variety. It has
has medium maturity and excellent yield potential (3,300 lb/A). early-to-medium maturity with fair yield (3,000 lb/A) and cured
DF 911 has a prostrate growth habit somewhat similar to the leaf quality characteristics. VA 309 has a semi-erect growth habit
Madoles but has a larger stalk size than most other dark tobacco with a fairly smooth leaf texture, making it a good choice for cigarvarieties. Cured leaf quality is typically lower than most other wrapper style markets. It has low-medium resistance to race 0
varieties, as the leaf face tends to cure to a dark brown, while the and race 1 black shank and low resistance to black root rot.
back of the leaf cures to a light tan. DF 911 has high resistance VA 359 is typically used as an air-cured variety but may also
be fire-cured. It has early-to-medium maturity and good yield
to black root rot, wildfire, and tobacco mosaic virus.
potential (3,100 lb/A). It has an erect growth habit but may appear to be more variable in the field than many other varieties.
VA 359 has leaves lighter in color than most other varieties. VA
359 has excellent handling and cured leaf quality characteristics
and cures to a light brown color. VA 359 has low resistance to
race 0 and race 1 black shank and is only a marginal choice for
black shank fields, with acceptable survival expected only in
very mild cases.
TN D950 is a fire-cured variety with early maturity and a very
prostrate growth habit. It has excellent yield potential (3,200
lb/A) but may produce only fair cured leaf quality when not
cured properly. Leaves of TN D950 have a smooth texture and
are darker green, containing more chlorophyll (green leaf pigment) than most other dark tobacco varieties. TN D950 may
require earlier and more firing to help drive green out of the
cured leaf. TN D950 has medium resistance to race 0 and race
1 black shank (slightly lower than DT 538LC, DT 558LC, KT
D6LC, and KT D8LC), and high resistance to black root rot,
tobacco mosaic virus, and wildfire. Rapid leaf maturity can
occur in TN D950 at four to five weeks after topping. Due to
its smooth leaf texture, TN D950 has potential for use in cigarwrapper style markets. Due to its early maturity and black root
rot resistance, TN D950 can be a good choice for first cures
transplanted in early May for double-crop curing.
KT D4LC was discontinued in 2013. For growers who would
like to grow another variety with very similar agronomic characteristics and disease resistance to KT D4LC, KT D8LC is
KT D6LC is a hybrid of KT D4LC x TN D950. It is a fire-cured
variety with early-to-medium maturity, semi-erect growth habit,
and fairly smooth leaf texture. It has not been highly recommended as an air-cured variety but has performed relatively
well under good air-curing conditions. KT D6LC has excellent
yield potential (3,400 lb/A) and usually has higher cured leaf
quality than KT D8LC or TN D950. It has medium resistance
to race 0 and race 1 black shank (but slightly lower than KT
D8LC,DT 538LC, or DT 558LC), and high resistance to black
root rot, tobacco mosaic virus, and wildfire. When KT D6LC is
transplanted in early May, physiological maturity characteristics
at the end of the season can be much like TN D950, with rapid
leaf maturity occurring about five weeks after topping.
KT D8LC has a very erect growth habit with medium maturity
and leaves light in color similar to VA 359. Spacing between
leaves is closer than most other varieties and it will typically
have three to four more leaves than other varieties topped to the
same height on the stalk. It has coarse leaf texture with cured
leaf quality that is usually lower than most other varieties. KT
D8LC will perform relatively well as a fire-cured or air-cured
variety. KT D8LC has medium resistance to race 0 and race 1
black shank but no resistance to black root rot, tobacco mosaic
virus, or wildfire. KT D8LC has excellent yield potential (3,600
KT D14LC is the newest release from the University of Kentucky/University of Tennessee. It will perform relatively well
as a fire-cured or air-cured variety. KT D14LC has the highest
black shank resistance of any dark variety that has ever been
released, with a level 10 resistance to race 0 black shank and a
level 5 resistance to race 1 black shank. KT D14LC also has high
resistance to black root rot, tobacco mosaic virus, and wildfire It
has medium maturity with excellent yield characteristics similar
to KT D6LC (3,400 lb/A) and should have slightly better leaf
quality than KT D8LC, with leaf quality similar to KT D6LC.
DT 538LC was developed by Newton Seed Inc. and is typically
used as a fire-cured variety, but may also be air-cured. It has
excellent yield (3,300 lb/A) but fair cured leaf quality. It has
race 0 and race 1 black shank resistance slightly higher than
KT D8LC. DT 538LC has medium maturity with a semi-erect
growth habit and fairly coarse leaf texture.
DT 558LC was developed by Newton Seed Inc. and was released as an LC variety in 2014. DT 558LC is typically used as
a fire-cured variety but may also be air-cured. DT 558LC is very
similar to DT 538LC in maturity and plant growth characteristics. It has similar yield characteristics (3,200 lb/A) with similar
cured leaf quality to DT 538LC when fire-cured. It may have
better leaf quality than DT 538LC when air-cured. DT 558LC
has medium resistance to black shank race 0 and race 1 similar
to DT 538LC.
PD 7302LC is a hybrid developed by F.W. Rickard Seed. PD
7302LC has medium maturity, with excellent resistance to race
0 black shank but no resistance to race 1 black shank. It also has
high resistance to black root rot and tobacco mosaic virus, and
medium resistance to Fusarium wilt. PD 7302LC can be used as
a fire-cured or air-cured variety. It has a slightly upright growth
habit, with good yield (3,200 lb/A) and curing characteristics.
Growth habit and appearance of PD 7302LC are most similar
to KY 171. PD 7302LC is a good choice for early transplanted
first cures in double-crop, fire-cured tobacco where race 1 black
shank is not a concern.
PD 7305LC is a hybrid released by F. W. Rickard Seed in 2010.
PD 7305LC is a fire-cured variety that is very similar to TN D950
in most characteristics including prostrate growth habit, early
maturity, smooth leaf texture, and good yield potential (3,100
lb/A). Similar to TN D950, rapid leaf maturity can occur in PD
7305LC at about five weeks after topping. Like PD 7302LC, PD
7309LC, and PD 7318LC; PD 7305LC has excellent resistance
to race 0 black shank. Resistance to race 1 black shank in PD
7305LC is similar to TN D950. PD 7305LC is also highly resistant
to black root rot, tobacco mosaic virus, and wildfire. Like TN
D950, PD 7305LC may require earlier firing and more firing to
drive green out of the leaf. PD 7305LC should also have some
potential for use in the cigar-wrapper style market due to its
fairly smooth leaf texture, and may also be a good choice for
first cures transplanted in early May for double-crop curing.
PD 7309LC is another hybrid developed by F. W. Rickard Seed.
PD 7309LC has medium maturity with excellent resistance to
race 0 black shank. It is not resistant to race 1 black shank, black
root rot, or tobacco mosaic virus. It is a slightly more prostrate
variety than PD 7302LC with excellent yield (3,400 lb/A) and
curing characteristics. Other characteristics of PD 7309LC are
most similar to Narrowleaf Madole LC. PD 7309LC can be used
as a fire-cured or air-cured variety.
PD 7312LC is a hybrid of KY 171 x Narrowleaf Madole LC
developed by F. W. Rickard Seed Inc. that has good yield and
excellent quality characteristics for dark air-cured and fire-cured
tobacco. PD 7312LC has no resistance to black shank but has
high resistance to black root rot and tobacco mosaic virus and
medium resistance to Fusarium wilt. PD 7312LC was temporarily discontinued in 2013 but is available again now.
PD 7318LC is a hybrid introduced in 2009 by F. W. Rickard
Seed. PD 7318LC shows similarities to PD 7309LC in growth
habit and TN D950 in leaf color. PD 7318LC has excellent resistance to race 0 black shank but no resistance to race 1 black
shank. PD 7318LC has excellent yield (3,400 lb/A) and good
curing/leaf quality characteristics. In addition, PD 7318LC also
has high resistance to black root rot and tobacco mosaic virus.
PD 7318LC is predominantly a fire-cured variety and may be
a good choice for early transplanted first cures in double-crop,
fire-cured tobacco where race 1 black shank is not a concern.
Stalk size of PD 7318LC may be slightly larger than many other
dark varieties, although not as large as DF 911.
PD 7319LC is a new hybrid released by F. W. Rickard Seed in
2013. PD 7319LC has medium maturity and has performed well
as an air-cured or fire-cured variety. PD 7319LC has excellent
resistance to race 0 black shank, low resistance to race 1 black
shank, and is resistant to tobacco mosaic virus. Race 1 black
shank resistance in PD 7319LC is slightly lower than in PD
7305LC. Yield characteristics of PD 7319LC should be similar
to PD 7309LC and PD 7318LC (3,300 lb/A). Quality characteristics for PD 7319LC should also be similar to PD 7309LC
and PD 7318LC. PD 7319LC is the first dark variety with high
race 0 black shank resistance and at least low race 1 black shank
resistance that has performed well as an air-cured variety.
Management of Tobacco Float Systems
Bob Pearce, Andy Bailey, David Reed, Steve Bost, Chuck Johnson, and Lee Townsend
Tray Selection, Sanitation, and Care
he true value of a quality transplant lies in its potential to
produce a high yielding plant at the end of the growing season. Poor field management can result in low yields from good
quality transplants, but good field management cannot always
rescue poor-quality transplants.
Many tobacco growers have the knowledge and skills necessary to grow good quality transplants, but some do not have
the time to do the job well. For them, the best decision may be
to purchase transplants and allow someone else to absorb the
risks of transplant production. Growers who derive a significant
portion of their farm income from transplant sales tend to
spend more time managing their float facilities than growers
who grow transplants only for their own use, but that does not
mean that purchased plants are always better quality than those
grown on farm. Transplant buyers should consider carefully the
reputation of the transplant producer, ask questions about their
management practices, and carefully inspect transplants upon
Transporting live plants over long distances increases the
risk of spreading certain plant diseases more rapidly than would
occur under natural conditions. Transplants may be infected
with a disease even though they appear healthy at the time of
delivery. If you choose to purchase transplants, consider working with a local producer to minimize the risk of introducing
diseases and to help stimulate the local farm economy
For growers who choose to produce their own transplants
there are three general systems to consider: plug and transfer in
unheated outdoor float beds, direct seeding in unheated outdoor float beds, and direct seeding in heated greenhouses. Each
of these systems has its advantages and disadvantages, but all can
be used to produce quality transplants. Table 1 shows a relative
comparison of these three systems. Some growers may use more
than one system; for example, seeding in a heated greenhouse
and moving plants to an unheated bed after germination.
The U.S. Tobacco Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) Program
requires complete records for all transplants used, regardless of
whether they were grown on your farm or purchased. Information to be recorded includes seed lot number, date sowed, and
all chemical applications made during transplant production.
If you purchase plants be sure to request this information from
the transplant producer to include in your GAP records.
Tray Types
Most trays used in tobacco float systems are made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), and manufacturers control the
density of the tray by the amount of material injected into the
mold. Higher density trays tend to be more durable and have
a longer useful life than low density trays, but they also tend to
be more expensive. In some cases an inexpensive low density
tray may be desired by those who sell finished plants and have
difficulty getting trays returned or are concerned about potential
disease with returned trays. Some problems have been reported
with roots growing into the walls of low density trays, making
it difficult to remove the plants.
Height and Cell Number
Trays may also differ in the height or depth of the tray. A
“shallow” tray has the same length and width as a regular tray
but is only 1.5 inches deep as compared to the 2.5-inch depth
of a regular tray. In limited side-by-side comparisons, the shallow trays had fewer dry cells, slightly lower germination, and
slightly more spiral roots than regular trays (Table 2). There
was no difference in the production of usable transplants. The
field performance of plants produced in shallow trays has not
been significantly different from plants grown in deeper trays.
The advantages of the shallow trays include reduced amount
of soilless media needed, reduced space for tray storage, and
reduced volume of waste at the end of the tray’s useful life.
The choice of cell number per tray comes down to maximizing the number of plants produced per unit area while still
producing healthy plants of sufficient size for easy handling.
The outside dimensions of most float trays are approximately
the same, so as the number of cells increases, the cell volume
decreases. However, the depth of the tray and cell design can
influence cell volume. In general, as the cell volume decreases,
so does the optimum finished plant size. Smaller plants are not
a problem for growers using carousel setters, but those with
finger-type setters may have difficulty setting smaller plants
deep enough. Tray dimensions vary slightly from one manufacturer to another. Be sure that the tray you select matches the
dibble board and seeder you will use.
Table 1. Relative advantages and disadvantages of tobacco float
Some float transplant producers try to maximize plant production per unit area as a means of lowering overhead production costs. Trays with a high cell number (338 and higher) have
been used successfully by some greenhouse operators, but more
time and a greater level of management are needed to grow
transplants at these higher densities. Disease management is
also more difficult with high cell numbers, requiring better environmental control, more frequent clipping, and diligent spray
programs. For most tobacco producers with limited greenhouse
experience, a 242- or 288-cell tray is a good compromise.
Trays with lower cell numbers are recommended for transplant production in outside beds. The lack of environmental
control and infrequent clipping of outside beds makes the use
of high density trays a risky venture. Since the cost of outdoor
bed space is relatively inexpensive compared to a greenhouse,
growers are under less pressure to produce the maximum
number of plants per square foot.
Labor requirement
Cost per plant
Target usable plants (%)
Management intensity
Risk of plant loss
Risk of introduced disease
Uniformity of plants
Degree of grower control
Time to usable plants
* Weeks after plugging
Plug and
3 to 4*
Direct Seed
Outside Greenhouse
8 to 10
7 to 9
Table 2. Greenhouse performance of float trays.
Field soil is often infested with soil-inhabiting pathogens that
cause diseases in the float system. So, after trays have been used
to grow a crop of transplants and been to the field for transplanting, they may become contaminated if the trays come in
contact with soil. Trays should be rinsed off immediately after
transplanting to remove any media, plant debris, or field soil.
Dry Cells Germination Spiral Root Usable
Tray type
Plants (%)
LSD 0.05*
* Small differences between treatments that are less than this are
not considered to be real differences due to the treatment but are
thought to be due to random error and normal variability in plant
A good sanitation program is critical for consistent success
in the float system. For many of the diseases that are a problem
in float plants, sanitation is the first line of defense. Sanitizing
trays is difficult because of the porous nature of polystyrene.
As the trays age, they become even more porous. With each
successive use, more roots grow into the tray, which allows
pathogenic organisms to become embedded so deeply that they
are difficult to reach with sanitizing agents.
EPS trays become more porous as they age often leading to
increased problems with disease carryover in older trays. Effective tray sanitation means the disinfecting agent must reach
the resting spores of the disease organism in all the tiny cavities
throughout the tray. Steam, chlorine bleach, and quaternary
ammonium chloride salts are available disinfectants. None
of these disinfectants can completely eliminate pathogens in
contaminated trays, and each has positive and negative points,
as discussed below.
Steam has been shown by University studies to be an effective way to reduce potential plant pathogens in used EPS
trays. Steam sterilization of trays is especially recommended
for commercial transplant producers. Steaming trays to a temperature of 160 to 175В°F for at least 30 to 60 minutes has been
demonstrated to successfully reduce disease problems in used
trays. The key with all steam or high temperature treatments is
to achieve and hold the desired temperature through the middle
of the stack of trays for the duration of the treatment. EPS trays
exposed to temperatures above 180В°F may begin to soften and
become deformed.
In actual practice results with chlorine bleach have been
varied, often due to poor technique. Research has shown little
benefit of using more than 1 part bleach to 9 parts water (10%
solution). Any commercially available household bleach can be
used to make the sterilizing solution. Industrial-type bleaches
cost more and don’t add any additional benefit. Bleaches work
best when the trays are first washed with soapy water, then
dipped several times over a few seconds into clean 10 percent
bleach solution, and covered with a tarp or plastic to keep them
wet with the bleaching solution overnight. Because organic
matter prevents bleach from reaching all the cavities of a tray, a
fresh solution should be made up every two hours or whenever
it becomes dirty, whichever comes first. After the overnight
exposure period, the bleach solution should be washed from the
trays with clean water or water plus a quaternary ammonium
chloride salts product, followed by aeration to eliminate any
residual chlorine. Without proper aeration and post-washes,
salt residues can cause serious plant growth problems, especially
with older trays that tend to soak up more materials. Worker
safety issues are also an important consideration when working with bleach. Workers should be provided with appropriate personal protective equipment to minimize eye and skin
contact with bleach. Bleaching of trays should also be done in
a well-ventilated area.
Quaternary ammonium chloride salts and other types of
cleaners such as Greenshield, Physan-20, and CC-15 have been
shown to be effective for cleaning and disinfecting hard surfaces
in and around greenhouses. They are less effective in reducing
pathogen levels in porous EPS float trays. In University tests,
they have always provided some control as compared to using soap washes only, but they typically been inferior to steam
or bleach for sanitizing trays. These products do not damage
trays like steam, are less corrosive to greenhouse surfaces than
bleach, and less irritating than bleach for workers. They are
also less toxic to plants than bleach, so the greatest benefit for
these products may be in the final tray rinse following bleach
Table 3. Production of usable burley tobacco transplants in
selected soilless media in a tobacco float system
sanitation. These products can also be used on exposed surfaces
in the greenhouse. Follow the product label for directions for
proper dilution rates.
Usable Plants (%)
Brand of Media
The Gold
Carolina Choice
Premier Promix TA
Metromix Ag-lite
Southern States
Southern States w coir
Speedling fortified
Speedling Peat-Lite
Sunshine LT-5
Sunshine LT-3
The surest way to reduce the risk of diseases carried over
in trays is to purchase new trays each season. Previously used
trays, which may be contaminated with pathogens, should be
disinfected before storing them after harvest, or just before
seeding in the spring. They should be stored indoors out of
direct sunlight. Do not store trays for long periods of time in a
greenhouse, where ultraviolet light and heat will cause deterioration and damage. Avoid storing sanitized trays in areas where
trays may come into contact with soil or debris, or cover trays
with plastic or a tarp. Take appropriate steps to protect trays
from damage due to the nesting of small rodents and birds.
Filling Trays
Careful attention to tray-filling procedures will minimize the
occurrence of dry cells and spiral roots. In most cases, dry cells
occur when the media bridges and does not reach the bottom
of the tray or when a portion of the media sifts out the bottom
of the tray. When this happens, water does not wick up to the
top of the cell, and the seed in that cell will not germinate. A few
dry cells (1% or less) should be considered normal. It is a good
idea to check a few trays during tray filling to make sure that
media is in the small hole at the bottom of the tray. If bridging
of media is a consistent problem, try pouring it through a coarse
mesh screen to remove sticks and clumps. If media is falling
out the bottom of trays, you may need to add 1 or 2 quarts of
water to each bag of media prior to tray filling. Wait 24 hours,
if possible, to allow time for moisture to evenly adjust.
Each year, there are a few cases in which large groups of trays
fail to wick-up water after a reasonable period of time. Many of
these situations have been traced back to the use of media left
over from the previous year. During storage, the media dries
out, and the wetting agents tend to break down over time,
causing the media to be difficult to rewet. The use of leftover
media should be avoided if possible, however if it is known
that the media is old, try adding 2 or 3 quarts of water per bag
at least a day before seeding. It is also a good idea to keep an
intact empty bag or to record the lot numbers from the bags of
media used, as this information can be very helpful in tracking
down the source of problems. Before seeding the entire bed or
greenhouse, it may also be a good idea to fill and float a few trays
the day before seeding to evaluate how well media will wick.
Often wicking can be seen within 5 to 10 minutes of floating
trays. It should never take longer than 1 to 2 hours after floating for wicking to occur. For mild wicking problems where dry
cells are slightly above normal, misting trays over the top for 10
minutes or so per 1000 square feet of float bed (400 trays) using
the fine mist setting on a nozzle attached to a garden hose can
sometimes help improve wicking. Be sure to use the fine mist
setting and not large droplets so seed are not dislodged from
cells. Placing objects such as boards on trays in order to push
the tray down further into the water can also help improve mild
wicking problems. If dry cells are much over about 10 percent,
these methods will provide little or no improvement. If fresh
media is used, trays should wick well and none of these methods
should be needed.
When trays have deteriorated to the point that they can
no longer be reasonably cleaned and sanitized, they should
be disposed of in a responsible manner. Burning trays is not
recommended, as this can result in the production of noxious
smoke. Disposing of used trays in an approved landfill is the
best option if EPS trays are allowed.
Water Quality
Untreated surface water may contain disease-causing organisms and should never be used for growing float plants. Treated
water from most municipal and county water systems has been
found to be suitable for use in the float system, although in a
few water districts, the alkalinity levels have been found to be
above acceptable levels. Water from private wells occasionally has higher-than-desired levels of alkalinity. A preliminary
check of water quality can be made with a conductivity meter
and swimming pool test strips that measure pH and alkalinity.
Conductivity readings above 1.2 milli-siemens/centimeter (mS/
cm) or alkalinity above 180 parts per million suggest the need for
a complete water analysis. Water source analyses for plant growth
are available from most labs that provide soil tests. In rare situations water quality problems severe enough to warrant switching
to a different water source. For more information on water quality
for float beds, see UK Cooperative Extension publication Water
Quality Guidelines for Tobacco Float Systems (AGR-164).
Media Selection, Tray Filling, and Seeding
Media Types
The three basic components of soilless media used in the
float system are peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Peat is
the brown material that is used in all soilless media to provide
water and nutrient-holding capacity. Vermiculite is the shiny,
flaky material, and perlite is the white material used in some
media. Different brands of media have varying amounts of these
components. Some have only peat and vermiculite; others have
only peat and perlite; and still others have all three ingredients.
Research to date has not indicated any particular combination
of ingredients or brand of media to be consistently superior to
others (Table 3). Year-to-year variability within the same brand
of media can be quite high, so there is a need to continually
check and adjust tray filling and seeding procedures each year.
Fertilizer Selection and Use
Spiral Root and Germination Issues
“Spiral root” is a term used to describe a germinating float
plant in which the emerging root does not grow down into the
media but instead grows on the surface, often looping around
the plant (Figure 1). Spiral root is thought to be the result of
physical damage to the root tip as the root attempts to break
out of the seed and pellet. Whether or not a particular plant
will have spiral root is determined by a complex interaction
between the variety, the seed/pellet, media properties, and
weather conditions. The burley variety KY 14 x L8 and the dark
variety Narrowleaf Madole typically have a higher incidence of
spiral root than other varieties, regardless of other factors.
The incidence of spiral root has decreased in recent years,
due in part to changes made
to the pellets by some tobac- Figure 1. Spiral root of a burley
co seed companies. Never- tobacco transplant.
theless, spiral root can still
be an occasional problem
that results in a significant
reduction in usable plants.
To minimize spiral roots,
avoid packing media tightly
into the trays. Trays should
be allowed to fill by gravity
without additional pressure
applied to the top of the tray.
If spiral root seedlings are consistently a problem, a light
covering of media over the seed may be considered. A light
dusting is all that is needed; the tops of the seed should remain
visible. Research in Virginia has suggested that in many cases
all that is needed is slight jarring of the tray after seeding to
settle the seed and gently collapse the dibble around the seed.
Often growers who seed at one location and then move trays
by wagon or truck to the greenhouse report fewer problems
with spiral root, most likely due to the shaking of the tray while
Choose a fertilizer that is suitable for use in the float system.
Many water-soluble fertilizers sold at garden shops do not
contain the proper balance of nutrients in the right form for
tobacco transplants. Specifically, avoid fertilizers which have
a high proportion of nitrogen in the form of urea. Look for a
fertilizer with mostly nitrate nitrogen and little or no urea. In
the float system, urea can be converted to nitrite, which is toxic
to plants. Information about the nitrogen source should be on
the product label. If it is not there, don’t buy that product for the
float system. The use of 20-20-20 should be avoided due to the
low nitrate content, high urea content, and comparative high
phosphate content.
Research has shown that tobacco transplants do not need a
high level of phosphate. Some research even suggests that there
is a better balance of top and root growth if phosphate levels
are kept lower. Look for a fertilizer with low phosphate, such as
20-10-20, 16-5-16, 15-5-15, 13-2-13, 16-4-16, etc. Some growers
add Epsom salts (MgSO4) to the float water; however, research
has shown it to have little impact on the health and growth of
transplants. Foliar application of any fertilizer to float plants is
not recommended, as moderate to severe leaf burn can result.
Adding Fertilizer
Fertilizer can be added to float water just at seeding or within
seven to 10 days after seeding. The advantage of fertilizing at
seeding is convenience, in that the fertilizer can be dissolved in a
bucket, poured into the bed, and mixed easily. The disadvantage
is that salts can build up at the media surface during hot, sunny
conditions. As water evaporates from the media surface, the
fertilizer salts can be wicked up and deposited where they may
cause damage to the germinating seed.
Delaying the addition of fertilizer until a few days after
seeding minimizes the risk of salt damage to young seedlings.
When adding fertilizer or chemicals to an established float bed,
the water should be circulated for 2 to 4 hours depending on
the size of the bed to insure even distribution. Many producers
have built simple distribution systems with PVC pipe or hoses
to help mix fertilizers and chemicals throughout large float beds
without having to remove trays. The distribution systems are
typically connected to small, submersible pumps that can be
lowered into a bucket of dissolved fertilizer, then moved into
the bed to provide circulation for mixing. Pumps and hoses
should be sanitized with an approved greenhouse disinfectant
to avoid spreading diseases between beds. The addition of fertilizer should not be delayed by more than seven to 10 days after
seeding, or a lag in plant growth may result.
After the trays are filled, a small indentation, or “dibble,”
should be made in the surface of the media. Research has shown
that seed germination is much more consistent in dibbled trays
than in non-dibbled trays. The dibble board or rolling dibbler
should be matched to the brand of tray so that the dibble mark
is as close as possible to the center of each cell. The dibble should
be a half- to three-fourths-inch deep with relatively smooth sides
to allow the seed to roll to the bottom of the dibble. Handle the
trays with care after dibbling to avoid collapsing the dibble prior
to seeding.
Like the dibbler, the seeder should be matched to the brand
of tray you have. There are slight differences in the dimensions of trays from different manufacturers. If the seeder is not
matched to the tray, seeds might be placed near the edge of the
cell and will be less likely to germinate. After seeding, examine
the trays to ensure that there is only one seed in each cell. The
seed should be near the center of the cell and at the bottom of
the dibble. Seeds that fall outside the dibble or on the side of
the dibble mark are more likely to experience problems with
germination or spiral root.
Determining the Amount of Fertilizer Needed
Over-fertilization of float plants is a common mistake. The
recommended level of fertilization is no more than 100 ppm
nitrogen. This is equivalent to 4.2 pounds of 20-10-20 or 5.6 lb
of 15-5-15/1,000 gallons of water. To determine the gallons of
water in a float bed, use the following formula:
Number of trays the bed holds
x depth of water in inches
=gallons of water
Temperature Stresses
Chill injury can result when plants that have been exposed
to high temperatures are then exposed to cooler air. Chill injury
can also result from significant but normal swings of 25 to 30
degrees between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Burley
tobacco is much more susceptible to chill injury than dark
tobacco. Symptoms of chill injury are usually visible within
two or three days and include an upward cupping of the leaf
tips, constricted regions of the leaves, and a distinct yellowing
of the bud. If severe bud damage occurs, sucker bud initiation
may occur as the bud can no longer suppress the development
of suckers. While the bud usually recovers from this damage
and re-establishes control over the suckers, the sucker buds
have already been initiated. They may begin to grow again if
the plant is subjected to further stress. That stress often occurs
after transplanting, when the sucker buds begin to develop into
ground suckers that may result in plants with multiple stalks
that are difficult to harvest and produce poor quality tobacco.
Maintaining an even temperature that doesn’t fluctuate too
drastically can help reduce chill injury and potential ground
sucker problems.
When transplants are not developing fast enough, some
growers are tempted to add more fertilizer to push the plants
along. At high rates of fertilizer, plant growth will be very lush,
making the plants susceptible to bacterial soft rots, Pythium root
rot, and collar rot. Under-fertilized plants grow more slowly and
are more susceptible to diseases such as target spot.
Monitoring Fertility Levels
The incidence of improper fertilization can be reduced by
investing in a conductivity meter and monitoring the salt concentration on a regular basis. A conductivity meter measures
how easy it is to pass a current through a solution. The higher
the salt content of the solution, the greater the current. Conductivity meters need to be calibrated periodically to ensure
proper operation. Check the instructions that came with the
meter or visit your county Extension office for help calibrating.
Some of the newest meters require a specific solution that must
be purchased from the manufacturer be used for calibration,
so carefully read the instructions. To use the meter, measure
the reading of your water source before fertilizing. Most water
sources have a conductivity of between 0.1 and 0.5 mS/cm before fertilization. However, water with conductivity levels above
1.2 mS/cm may become too salty for optimum plant growth after fertilizer is added. Calculate the amount of fertilizer needed
for the bed. Add the fertilizer to the bed and mix thoroughly
before reading again. Readings can fluctuate for as much as 12
hours after adding fertilizer. The reading should go up by 0.5
to 0.9 mS/cm compared to the unfertilized water, depending
on the type of fertilizer used. For the most commonly used
20-10-20 formulations, the reading increases by 0.3 mS/cm for
every 50 ppm N added. The reading obtained after fertilization
should be the target level. If the reading falls below the target,
add more fertilizer. If it is above the target, add water to dilute
the fertilizer and avoid problems with over-fertilization. Many
water-soluble fertilizers now have charts on the label to help
with interpretation of conductivity readings. Some conductivity
charts are listed in units of mmhos/cm which are the same as
Monitoring and Regulating Temperatures
Accurate measurement is important for good control of
temperature. Thermostats and thermometers exposed to direct
sunlight will give false readings. Both devices should be shielded
for accurate readings. Thermostats should not be located too
close to doors and end walls or positioned too high above plant
level. The most accurate results are obtained from shielded
thermostats with forced air movement across the sensors.
Fans for ventilation are rated in CFMs, or cubic feet per
minute. Typically a greenhouse used for tobacco float plant
production in should have enough fan capacity to exchange
three-fourths to 1 times the volume of air in a greenhouse per
minute. Two fans allow for the ventilation to be staged so that
the first fan comes on at a lower temperature than the second.
Fans with more than one speed are more expensive but allow the
speed to increase as the air temperature inside the greenhouse
Shutters are designed to complement fans and should be
located at the opposite end of the greenhouse. They should
have an opening 1.25 to 1.5 times the size of the fan. Motorized
shutters are best and should be on a thermostat set at 2 to 3
degrees cooler than the fans, so that they open before the fans
come on. Alternatively, fans may be set on an 8- to 10-second
delay, which will accomplish the same thing. To reduce chill
injury damage, locate fans and shutters at least 3 ft above the
plants to minimize drafts and improve the mixing of cooler air
with the warmer air inside the greenhouse. Baffles can be used
inside to deflect cool, incoming air up and away from the plants.
Side curtains (wall) allow natural air movement for good
ventilation. Although they are cheaper to install and operate
than fans, they do present some risk. A cool, rainy morning
may rapidly change to a warm, sunny day. If no one is available
to make sure the curtains are lowered, plant damage can occur
within minutes after the sun comes out. It is important to have
someone at or near the greenhouse to lower curtains when
needed. Automated curtains are an option but may offer less
Climate Control and Temperature Management
Tobacco seeds germinate best around 70 to 75В°F. However, a
slight fluctuation between nighttime and daytime temperatures
may be beneficial for optimum plant growth. While cooler
temperatures tend to slow germination and growth, higher
temperatures are potentially more damaging to newly emerged
seedlings. Temperatures that exceed 90В°F may cause uneven
germination and predispose plants to temperature stress. Young
seedlings at the two- or three-leaf stage will often have scorched
appearance on the leaf tips with a pale/translucent appearance
to the body of the leaf after two or more hours of exposure to
temperatures in excess of 100°F. A good rule is that if it’s too hot
to work in a greenhouse, it’s too hot for the plants. Temperatures
in excess of 100В°F may be unavoidable on hot, sunny days, but
every attempt should be made to manage the ventilation to
reduce the length of time that plants are exposed to excessive
precise operation than fans. For the most control of the growing
environment, both fans and curtains are recommended. A side
curtain should, at its maximum, provide 1 ft of vertical opening
per 10 ft of greenhouse width. A typical 36-ft-wide greenhouse
may have a 3-ft side curtain that will drop 2 ft but may have 1
ft of plastic hanging down over the side, providing only 1 ft of
effective ventilation. The best system would have a 5-ft side wall
that could be opened to 3.5 to 4 ft to meet the required guideline
for ventilation.
For more information, please see UK Cooperative Extension publication Basics for Heating and Cooling Greenhouses
for Tobacco Transplant Production (ID-131).
In greenhouses that are sealed very tight additional air
exchanges during the night or at daybreak may be necessary
to control moisture problems. Using fans for nighttime or
early-morning ventilation is generally safer than lowering side
curtains due to possible injury from the sudden influx of cool
air, though cracking a side curtain on the leeward side of the
greenhouse is also an option for air exchange. Once the humid air has been exchanged, the fans (or curtains) should be
switched back to automatic for temperature control.
Protecting Plants from Condensation
Other methods may be used to protect plants from the
direct damage caused by dripping, but they do little to control
the cause of condensation or reduce disease potential. Building the greenhouse or bed with a steeper pitch for the roof will
reduce problems, because the condensation that forms will have
a greater tendency to roll off the sides rather than drip. Some
growers use bed covers at the plant level to protect plants from
dripping. With this method three common problems occur: (1)
the plants get too hot, (2) plants don’t get enough light and have
a tendency to elongate or stretch, and (3) plants may become
attached to the cover and may be pulled from the trays as the
covers are removed. The plant-level covers should be removed
as soon as the plants are big enough (about dime size) to protect
the cell from damage. There are also some commercial materials
available that can be sprayed on interior surfaces of greenhouses
to reduce surface tension in order to help water roll off the sides
rather than drip.
Humidity Management
Humidity can cause numerous problems inside a greenhouse
or float system. As the warm, moist air comes in contact with
cool surfaces, such as greenhouse plastic, support pipes, and
float bed covers, it condenses as droplets. Water droplets can
dislodge and fall to the trays, disturbing seeds and seedlings
and knocking soil out of cells, which results in stand loss. High
humidity favors the development of disease problems. High
humidity can also reduce the longevity of some metal components such as heaters and supports by promoting the development of rust. In greenhouses, the best control of condensation
and moisture is through the proper control of ventilation and
Sources of Humidity in Float Systems
Excessive humidity is more common in greenhouses than in
outdoor float beds, which tend to be well ventilated. Sources of
humidity include evaporation from the float beds, transpiration
as water moves through a plant’s system and into the air, and
the release of moisture during the combustion of natural gas
or propane. Non-vented heaters will generate more humidity
than vented heaters, because all of the heat, fumes, and water
vapor are released into the greenhouse. Ventilation is essential
for greenhouses with non-vented heating systems but is also a
good idea for vented systems.
Circulation Fans
Circulation fans are primarily designed to circulate air and
prevent formation of hot and cold zones that could cause condensation and influence plant growth. Circulation fans should
be located approximately 40 to 50 ft apart, one-fourth of the
house width from each side wall, and about halfway between
plant level and the highest point of the roof. Ideally circulation
fans on each side of a greenhouse should point in opposite
directions to create a good circulation pattern and should be
set to turn off when the ventilation fans are on. Circulation
fans should not be pointed down at a sharp angle or they can
increase evaporation on the tray surface and potentially increase
salt accumulation at the soil surface, affecting germination and
plant growth. An elliptical pattern of abnormal growth or injury
across several trays and in front of a fan is generally an indication
that a circulation fan is positioned at too steep an angle.
Circulation fans are also important in maintaining optimum
temperatures at plant level. Since warm air rises, circulation fans
help to direct warm air down toward the plants. A greenhouse
without circulation fans or with circulation fans turned off may
have temperatures 15 to 18 degrees lower at the plant level than
just 4 ft. above the plant level.
Regulating Humidity
While ventilation seems counterproductive to keeping a
greenhouse heated, ventilation replaces some of the warm,
moist air with cooler, less humid air. Warm air can hold a lot
more moisture than cooler air, a concept that can aid in regulating humidity.
Regulation of humidity can begin as the sun goes down in
the evening. Turning a fan on or cracking a side curtain open
pushes warm, humid air out of the greenhouse, replacing it with
cooler, less humid air. The exchange of air can reduce condensation problems that tend to escalate as the inside air cools. This
process will take only a few minutes of fan time to complete, but
many producers are reluctant to use this method due to the cost
of reheating the cooler air. The benefits often outweigh the cost
during cooler weather periods by reducing the damage caused
by condensation collecting and falling from the inner surface
of the greenhouse onto trays. Many tobacco greenhouses have
enough on-going air leakage around doors, curtains etc. that
this one air exchange is sufficient to control moisture problems.
Proper clipping of float plants helps to toughen the plants,
promotes uniformity, increases stem diameter, and aids in disease control. When done properly, clipping does not slow the
growth of plants significantly, nor does it contribute to early
blooming or ground sucker formation.
Proper Procedures
When clipping is done properly, it actually aids in disease
control by opening up the plant canopy to allow for greater light
penetration and improved air circulation around the plants.
Clipping equipment must be sanitized to avoid spreading diseases. The mower and surrounding frame should be thoroughly
cleaned after each use and sprayed with a disinfecting solution
of 10 percent bleach or a commercial greenhouse disinfectant.
If left on metal surfaces, bleach will promote rust, so rinse all
surfaces after 10 minutes of contact time. Disinfection between
individual beds and greenhouses will reduce the potential for
spreading disease.
The key to effective clipping of float plants is to make a
clean cut and remove the clipped material from the area. To
accomplish this, use a sharp blade and adjust the mower speed
so that the clipped material is lifted off the plants and deposited
in the bagger. A high blade speed will result in the material being
ground to a pulp and being deposited back on the trays, thereby
increasing the likelihood of certain diseases. A dull blade may
tear the leaf, which may not heal properly as a result. A relatively
low blade speed with a sharp blade works best. Although some
vacuum is necessary to push clipped leaves into a leaf catcher,
a high vacuum may pull plants from the trays or suck the trays
up into the blade. Dispose of clippings at least 100 yards from
the transplant production facility to minimize the spread of
diseases such as Sclerotinia collar rot. Gasoline-powered reeltype mowers have been used successfully for clipping plants.
This type of mower tends to make a clean cut, producing large
pieces of intact leaf and depositing them in a catcher with little
or no grinding. Rotary mowers, however, may be easier to adjust
and maintain. An improperly maintained or adjusted mower
may result in improper clipping that could injure plants, reduce
vigor, and promote disease development.
(removing more than 1 inch of leaf material) should be avoided
unless plant growth needs to be controlled. Plants should never
be clipped so severely that buds are damaged. Plugged plants
should be clipped for the first time approximately one to two
weeks after plugging (as soon as the roots have established).
The same guidelines that apply to clipping direct-seeded plants
apply to plugs. Plugged plants should only require two or three
clippings unless setting is delayed.
Pest Control in Tobacco Float Beds
The first line of defense in controlling pests is their exclusion
from float beds. A good sanitation program will not eliminate
pests from the system, but it will reduce their numbers and the
likelihood that they will cause economic loss. In addition to
disinfecting trays, a good sanitation program includes removing weeds from around the bed area and cleaning equipment
used in and around the beds. Locate the float site away from
tobacco fields, barns, and stripping rooms to reduce the chance
of introducing pathogens into float beds.
Pesticides are useful tools for managing certain pest problems
on tobacco seedlings. Many of the pesticides that are labeled for
tobacco in the field, however, can’t be used in float beds. Check
labels carefully to make sure that the products you intend to use
are cleared for tobacco and are approved for use in greenhouses
and outdoor float beds.
Several products containing the active ingredient acephate
are labeled for use in float systems. Orthene 97 is labeled to use
in tobacco greenhouses at a rate of Вѕ tablespoon in 3 gallons of
water to cover 1000 square feet of bed surface area. Float water
from treated beds should be disposed of on tobacco fields either
as spray water or transplant barrel water. Generic products
containing acephate may also be labeled for this use but with
different use rates, consult and follow the label directions for all
products used. The use of some Bt products such as Dipel may
also be allowed for caterpillar control greenhouses at rates of
ВЅ to 2 teaspoons per gallon.
Timing and Frequency
The first clipping is usually the most beneficial, and directseeded float plants should be clipped for the first time when
the plant buds are approximately 1.5 to 2 inches above the tray
surface. The cut should be made approximately 1 to 1.5 inches
above the bud and ideally should remove no more than a 0.5 to
1 inch of leaf material. The first clipping promotes uniformity,
particularly in outside direct-seeded beds where germination is
often uneven. Smaller plants may not be clipped the first time
but will benefit from more sunlight and less competition from
plants that were taller before clipping. After the first clipping,
plants should be clipped every five to seven days, depending on
growth rate. Clipping frequency should be timed to remove no
more than a half inch to 1 inch of leaf material at a time. Clipping
too much leaf material in one pass increases the amount of debris deposited on leaves and may enhance disease development.
Two passes may be necessary in cases of rank growth between
clippings. Four to six clippings may be necessary to achieve the
best plant quality. Seldom are more than six clippings necessary
unless field planting is delayed due to weather. However, plants
produced in trays with smaller cells (338) may require more
frequent clipping. Plants that need to be held for some length
of time before transplanting can be clipped additional times to
help manage plant size and slow plant growth. Hard clipping
Management of Insect Pests
A variety of insects and other organisms that live in water or
moist organic matter can damage seedlings or cause problems
in the float system. Algae on the media surface and organisms
that can grow in float water provide food for fungus gnats, shore
flies, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and waterfleas. Pillbugs,
and even some scavenger beetles, can burrow into media,
while slugs, cutworms, thrips, and aphids can feed on developing plants. Insect pests can uproot or eat and destroy many
seedlings in a short period of time. In most cases, it is easier to
prevent infestations that to control them once they have started.
Regular inspection is necessary to catch developing problems
before serious damage occurs.
Gnats, Flies, Bloodworms, Mosquitoes, and Waterfleas
Fungus gnats. Occasionally, fungus gnat larvae can be serious pests. The legless white larvae with distinct black heads
are scavengers that live and feed in decaying organic matter.
Occasionally, they will chew on root hairs, enter the roots, or
even attack the stem or crown of the plant. Damaged or infested
plants grow poorly and may die.
The adults are small (one-eighth inch) black flies with long
legs and antennae, tiny heads, and one pair of clear wings. Females lay tiny ribbons of yellowish-white eggs in the growing
media that hatch in about four days. The larvae feed for about 14
days and then pupate in drier surface media. Adults live about
a week. Under greenhouse conditions, they can complete a
generation in three to four weeks.
Shore flies. Shore flies also are small gnats with short antennae;
heavy, darker bodies; and a pair of smoky wings with several
distinct clear spots. They rest on plant foliage or most any surface around the float beds. The shore fly’s life cycle is similar to
that of the fungus gnat. The maggot-like yellow to brown larva
is up to one-fourth-inch long and does not have a distinct head.
Both the larva and adult feed mostly on algae, but occasionally
a larva will bore directly into the base of a small plant. These
plants will break easily at the soil surface. The adults do not feed
on plants, but may spread soil pathogens that stick to their body
as they crawl over media and move from tray to tray.
Bloodworms. Bloodworms are the small, red wriggling worms
that live in float water green with algal growth. The red color
comes from oxygen-carrying hemoglobin that allows it to develop in still, stagnant water. These gnat larvae have chewing
mouthparts and generally feed on algae or other organic matter
in the water. They may be found in plant roots that grow through
the bottom of float trays, but they do not feed on them. These
insects are similar to mosquitoes, but the adults (gnats) do not
feed on blood or plants.
Mosquitoes. Standing water in empty float beds can be a
breeding site for large numbers of mosquitoes. In addition to
being a painful nuisance, some of these mosquitoes can carry
West Nile virus or types of encephalitis. If float water stands
for more than a week after trays have been removed, mosquito
dunks or granules containing Bt-i (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) should be added according to label directions. Mosquito
dunks are not labeled for use while plants are on the water.
Waterfleas. Waterfleas are very small crustaceans that swim
through the water with very jerky movements. They are common in many temporary water puddles during the summer
and can accidentally end up in float water. They feed on a wide
range of small organisms that live in the water, especially algae.
They are harmless, but massive numbers may cause concern.
Foliar sprays of acephate (Orthene, etc.) can be used to
reduce numbers of both species. However, they do not reach
larvae in the media, so new adults will continue to be produced.
Slugs can cause serious damage to float plants. They are active very early in the spring and can destroy small plants as they
begin to grow. Slugs can enter from overgrown areas around the
bed or may come from under plastic bed liners, stacked boards,
etc. They feed at night or during overcast days and hide in cool,
moist places when the sun is out. Their rasping mouthpart
scrapes away at leaves and tender stems, producing holes or
scars on the leaf surface. Slugs often leave behind silvery slime
Reducing slug problems. Sanitation is very important for slug
control. Keep the area around float beds free of plant debris
(leaves, pulled weeds, etc.), old boards, bricks, or stones that
provide cool, moist hiding places for slugs. Frequent clipping
of plants along the outside margin of the beds will let the area
dry out so it is less attractive to slugs. Slug baits containing
iron phosphate or metaldehyde can be distributed along these
areas, too. It is best to manage slugs before they get to the trays.
Insecticides are not effective against slugs.
The variegated cutworm causes serious problems in some
greenhouse or float systems almost every year. The adult (a
moth) flies in mid-March and lays clusters of about 60 eggs
on the stems or leaves of low-growing plants. The smooth,
pale gray to light brown larva has a row of pale spots down the
center of its back. This cutworm feeds for three to four weeks
and is about 1.6 inches long when full grown. Since their eggs
are laid in clusters, entire trays of plants can be destroyed in a
short time. The cutworms hide during the day in tray media
and feed at night. When monitoring for these insects, look for
cut plants or leaves with large sections removed.
Infestations often begin in trays along outer walls and spread
in a circular pattern from that point. Feeding by small cutworms
appears as notches along leaf margins and is easy to overlook.
Feeding rate increases dramatically as the larvae grow, so extensive damage can seem to appear overnight. In fact, the cutworms
are there usually for about two weeks before they eat enough to
be noticed.
Reducing cutworm problems. Keep outside bed margins
trimmed so plant growth is not attractive to moths. Keep doors
closed or screened at night when moths are flying. Excess outside lighting will attract moths to an area. Checking trays along
bed margins regularly for feeding damage to leaves is a good way
to detect problems early. Foliar sprays of acephate (Orthene,
etc.) or sprays of Bt insecticides (Dipel, etc.) will kill cutworms.
Reducing Fly/Gnat Problems
Eliminate wet areas and standing puddles and provide good
drainage in and around greenhouses or float beds. Have a minimum amount of exposed water surface. Using empty trays to
fill the bed so open water is not available will reduce egg laying
by mosquitoes and gnats.
Regularly clip grass along bed margins so these areas can
dry quickly. Avoid letting clippings get into float water. They
can provide food for gnats, etc.
Excessively wet media in trays attracts fungus gnats. Algal
growth on the surface will attract shore flies. Keep moisture
content optimum for plant growth but not above that level.
Yellow sticky cards (available from greenhouse supply stores)
can be tacked to pot stakes or suspended in the area to monitor
for buildup of fungus gnats or shore flies. An early insecticide
treatment will be more effective than one applied when fly
numbers are very high.
Pillbugs are scavengers that live in decaying organic matter.
They occasionally feed lightly on young plants, but the damage is minor. They do churn up and burrow into plant media,
uprooting and killing small seedlings. Once they’re in trays, it
is difficult to control them. Their armored bodies protect them
from insecticide spray droplets.
Pillbugs can only survive in humid air, so they hide under
objects during the day. They are common under plastic, boards,
stones, and other items resting on damp ground. They will also
congregate in grassy or overgrown areas.
Reducing pillbug problems. Cleanup and regular mowing along
the outside of bed structures will remove hiding places and
allow areas to dry. Old plastic liners provide cover for pillbugs
and should be removed. Pillbugs will leave for better conditions. Ventilation to reduce excess humidity also helps to lower
problems with pillbugs and slugs.
Leave a few small pieces of plywood on the ground and check
under them regularly for accumulations of pillbugs or slugs. If
many are found, the area can be sprayed with an insecticide
before they enter trays.
• Maintain a clean, closely mowed area around the greenhouse
or float beds to eliminate shelter for insect pests.
• Eliminate pools of standing water on floors. and open water
in float beds. Algal and moss growth in these areas can be
sources of fungus gnat, shore fly, and mosquito problems.
• Remove all plants and any plant debris; thoroughly clean the
greenhouse after each production cycle.
• If possible, keep the greenhouse open during the winter to
eliminate tender insects like aphids, gnats, and whiteflies.
• Avoid overwatering and promote good ventilation to minimize wet areas conducive to fly breeding.
Management of Diseases
The float system offers a number of advantages over the
traditional plant bed for growing tobacco transplants but also
creates ideal conditions for some important diseases. High
moisture levels and high plant population favor infection of
roots and leaves by a number of plant pathogens. Prevention
is the most important part of disease management in tobacco
float beds.
The major diseases encountered in production of transplants
in the float system are Pythium root rot, target spot, Sclerotinia
collar rot, blue mold, and black leg or bacterial soft rot. Less common are anthracnose, damping-off (Pythium and Rhizoctonia),
Botrytis gray mold, angular leaf spot, and virus diseases (such as
tobacco mosaic). The following is a summary of recommended
practices for the control of diseases commonly encountered
in the float system. A list of recommended fungicides (Table
4) and relative effectiveness of cultural and chemical practices
against common diseases (Table 5) have been included at the
end of this section.
Tobacco Aphids/Green Peach Aphids
Tobacco aphids or green peach aphids can begin to build
up when covers are removed or sides are opened to let plants
begin to harden off before transplanting. Infestations start as
winged aphids that settle on plants and begin to deposit small
numbers of live young. The initial infestation consists of a few
aphids on scattered plants, but these insects are fast reproducers
and numbers can increase rapidly.
Since aphids are sap feeders, there are no holes in the leaves
or distinct symptoms to attract attention. Begin checking
random trays for aphids about seven to 10 days after plants are
uncovered and continue to check a few trays each week until
transplant time. Look on the underside of leaves for colonies.
Reducing aphid problems. Acephate (Orthene, etc.) can be used
for aphid control in greenhouses and outdoor float systems.
Catch infestations before they become too large to control effectively and direct sprays to the underside of the leaves.
Develop an Integrated Plan
Disease-free transplants pay dividends over the course of the
growing season because they are more vigorous and less prone
to attack by pathogens in the field. Use a strategy that integrates
management of the environment, sanitation, and fungicides to
get the best possible control of diseases in the float system and
produce the best transplants that you can. While it may not be
possible to avoid diseases completely, integrated management
practices will reduce the impact of diseases in the float system
Thrips are slender, tiny (0.04 inch), light brown to black
insects. They feed by rasping the plant leaf surface and sucking
up the exuding sap. Heavily infested leaves have a speckled or
silvery appearance. Thrips feeding can damage the growing
point and cause stunted, unthrifty plants, but they also can carry
tomato spotted wilt/impatiens necrotic spot virus.
Thrips infestations are rare in outdoor float systems but could
be a significant problem in greenhouse systems where at least
some plants are kept year-round. They can be carried into the
greenhouse on contaminated plant material or fly in during the
summer and continue to breed throughout the winter.
Reducing thrips problems. Blue sticky cards, available from
greenhouse suppliers, can be used to monitor thrips and to
assess control efforts. Control of established infestations is difficult and usually requires several insecticidal sprays at regular
intervals. Use screens on ventilators, inspect new material
entering the greenhouse, and control weeds in the greenhouse
to prevent and manage thrips.
Exclude Pathogens from Transplant Facilities
To avoid the introduction of plant pathogens into the float
system, consider the following:
• Use well or city water to fill float beds. Surface waters (ponds,
creeks, rivers) may harbor pathogens, such as Pythium.
• Keep soil and surface water out of float bays. Soil and surface
water are key sources of Pythium, Rhizoctonia, and other
plant pathogens. Cover dirt walkways with landscape cloth,
gravel, or concrete. Keep trays out of contact with soil when
removing them from float beds.
• Control weeds in and around greenhouses and outdoor
float beds. Weeds interfere with ventilation and also harbor
pathogens and insects.
• Grow your own plants from seed if possible. If using plugs,
grow your own or purchase from a local supplier. Don’t buy
Cultural Controls Are Essential
Cultural controls are the primary defense against insect pest
infestations. Good practices include:
• Keep doors, screens, and ventilators in good repair.
• Use clean or sterile media.
Table 4. Guide to chemicals available for control of tobacco diseases 2015—transplant production.
Agricultural Streptomycin
(Agri-Mycin 17, Firewall,
Aliette WDG
Mancozeb (Manzate ProStick
[CT, SC,OH, KY,NC,TN] or
Penncozeb [VA])
Milk: Whole/Skim
Milk: Dry
Terramaster 4 EC
Product Rate Per
100-200 ppm
no limit
(1-2 tsp/gal H2O)
0.5 lb/50 gal H2O
1.2 lb per
1,000 sq ft
0.5 lb/100 gal H2O
no limit
5 gal/100 gal H2O
5 lb/100 gal H2O
no limit
Target Diseases
angular leaf spot
blue mold
blue mold
blue mold
tobacco mosaic
virus (plant-toplant spread)
target spot
0.14 fl oz (4 ml)/ 1,000 sq ft 0.14 fl oz (4
ml)/ 1,000
sq ft
3.8 fl oz
0.7-1.0 fl oz/100 gal H2O
(Pythium spp.) root
rot (Pythium spp.)
1.0-1.4 fl oz/100 gal H2O
Label Notes
Apply in 3-5 gal/1,000 sq ft. Begin when
plants are dime-sized or larger.
Apply 3 gal of solution per 1,000 sq ft on
small plants; increase to a maximum of 12
gal as plants grow.
Apply 3-12 gal/1,000 sq. ft. as a fine spray.
Begin when plants are dime-sized or larger.
Apply to plants at least 24 h prior to
handling. Mix will treat 100 sq yd.
Only one application prior to transplanting.
For prevention, apply to float-bed water
at 2-3 weeks after seeding. Additional
applications can be made at 3-week
intervals. The curative rates can begin no
sooner than 3 weeks after seeding. Apply
no later than 5 days before transplanting.
a Rate range of product. In general, use higher rates when disease pressure is high. Refer to product label for application information,
restrictions, and warnings.
Create an Unfavorable Environment for Plant Pathogens
Management of temperatures and humidity are critical factors in the management of float bed diseases. Long periods of
leaf wetness favor many pathogens, so keeping foliage as dry
as possible should be a major goal. Take steps to manage soil
moisture. Although transplants are floating on water continuously during the production cycle, plugs in properly filled trays
are not waterlogged. Waterlogging of cells can lead to the development of disease problems, particularly as temperatures rise.
The environment in float systems can be made less favorable
for disease by employing the following guidelines:
• Maintain good air movement around plants through the use
of side vents and fans.
• After the first clipping, keep water levels high enough for
float trays to clear the side boards of the bays, allowing for
better air movement.
• Avoid overhead irrigation and minimize potential for water
splash between trays. Condensation that forms on cool
nights can drip onto plants, wetting foliage and spreading
• Avoid temperature extremes. Cool temperatures favor
diseases like blue mold and collar rot, while warmer temperatures favor target spot and black leg (bacterial soft rot).
• Don’t over-pack trays with media, and dispose of trays more
than 3 to 4 years old. Over-packed trays tend to waterlog
easily, as do older trays, and disease risk increases in these
plugs or plants from sources in the Deep South to avoid the
possible introduction of the blue mold pathogen.
• Don’t grow vegetables or ornamentals in the same facilities
where tobacco seedlings are being produced. Vegetables and
ornamentals may harbor pathogens that can infect tobacco.
Make Sanitation a Routine Practice
Good sanitary practices during transplant production reduce
the chances of introducing pathogens or carrying them over
between growing seasons. Recommended sanitary practices
• Sanitize old trays as recommended or use new trays for each
crop of transplants. Discard trays that are more than 3 to 4
years old, as these trays become porous and nearly impossible
to sanitize. See “Tray Sanitation and Care” in this section for
• Clean and sanitize mowers and other equipment used in the
float system frequently; a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts
water is effective.
• Remove diseased plants before clipping to avoid spread to
healthy seedlings.
• Promptly dispose of diseased or unused plants. Discard
these plants at least 100 yards from the transplant facility to
minimize movement of pathogens from cull piles back into
the float system.
• Clip properly to avoid buildup of leaf matter in trays, and
remove excess material that collects in trays. Diseases such
as black leg and collar rot often begin on debris and then
spread to healthy seedlings.
• Wash hands and sanitize shoes before entering the transplant
facility or handling plants.
• Avoid the use of tobacco products when working with tobacco seedlings.
Minimize Plant Stress
Keep your transplants as stress-free as possible. Temperature
extremes, too much or too little fertilizer, or improper clipping
can cause undue stress on tobacco seedlings and increase the
likelihood of disease. The following practices can help keep
plants stress-free.
Virus Diseases
Use new/sterilized trays
+++a +++ +++ +++
Use municipal water to fill bays
Sanitize equipment, shoes, hands, etc.
Avoid contact of trays with soil
+++ +++
Maintain air movement
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++
+++ +++
Maintain proper fertilityc
Temperature control
Minimize splashing
Proper clippingd
Avoid buildup of leaf clippings in trays
Dispose of diseased plants properly
Weed control in/around float system
Insect control
Avoid out-of-state transplants
Avoid tobacco use when handling plants
a - = no effect on disease management, + = minimally effective, ++ = moderately effective, +++ = highly effective.
b Preventive applications only (made before symptoms appear).
c Based upon a recommended range of 75-100 ppm of nitrogen.
d Clip using a well-sharpened blade under conditions that promote rapid drying of foliage.
Angular Leaf Spot
Botrytis Gray Mold
Black Leg/
Bacterial Soft Rot
Blue Mold
Collar Rot (Sclerotinia)
Target Spot
Pythium Damping-off
Recommended Practice
Pythium Root Rot
Table 5. Relative effectiveness of
recommended practices for management of
diseases of tobacco transplants
Pythium Root Rot
• Preventive applications of Terramaster generally give better
control of disease than curative applications and tend to
cause less injury to seedlings.
• For disease prevention, apply Terramaster EC (1 fl oz/100
gal of float water ) when tobacco roots first emerge from the
bottoms of trays (approximately two to three weeks after
seeding, or longer depending on water temperature).
• Single preventive applications of Terramaster are usually
adequate if new or properly sanitized trays are used. Where
disease risk is higher, supplemental applications can be made
up to five days before transplanting. The interval between applications is three weeks, and use no more than 3.8 fl oz/100
gal of float water per crop of transplants.
• Curative treatments can be made by treating float water with
Terramaster at 1 to 1.4 fl oz/100 gal, beginning at the first
appearance of symptoms. Do not make a curative treatment
earlier than three weeks after seeding.
• Curative treatments do not eradicate Pythium from the float
system, and re-treatment is occasionally required. Followup treatments can be made as described for the preventive
schedule. Seasonal limits and timing between treatment and
transplanting are the same as for the preventive schedule.
• Always mix Terramaster thoroughly in float water to avoid
plant injury and to achieve the best control of Pythium root
• Keep nitrogen levels in float beds between 75 and 125 ppm.
Seedlings are more susceptible to target spot when nitrogen
drops below 50 ppm, and problems with black leg (bacterial
soft rot) are most common when nitrogen levels exceed 150
ppm for extended periods. Excess nitrogen also promotes
rapid growth that takes longer to dry and is more disease
susceptible. Over-fertilized plants also need to be clipped
more frequently, increasing the risk to certain diseases.
• Clip properly (see “Clipping” in this section) to reduce plant
stress, along with the volume of clippings. Make sure the
mower’s blade is sharp to promote rapid healing of wounds.
Clip plants when leaves are dry to reduce the risk of disease.
Apply Fungicides Wisely
A small number of fungicides are labeled for use on tobacco
in the float system. These products are aimed at Pythium root
rot, blue mold, damping-off, and target spot. The remaining
diseases can be managed only by cultural practices.
Fungicides need to be applied in a timely manner to get the
best disease control in the float system. Products labeled for
use in the float system and their rates are listed in Table 4. Do
not use products that are not labeled for tobacco, or those that
prohibit use in greenhouses. Older fungicides, such as Terramaster 35WP, Carbamate, Dithane and Ferbam can no longer
be used on tobacco seedlings growing in float systems. Take
care to avoid introduction of chemicals such as streptomycin
and Aliette to float water to avoid plant injury. Following are
guidelines for using fungicides against important diseases.
Plant injury is a concern with Terramaster, but serious
problems can be avoided by careful mixing and timely application. Terramaster will burn the roots of tobacco seedlings, but
plants quickly recover. Stress from root burn is minimized if
Terramaster is applied when roots first enter the float water
and is greatest when the fungicide is applied to seedlings with
extensive root systems. Severe root burn can lead to stunting
and delayed development of seedlings—reason enough to begin
applications of Terramaster early.
The float bed area must be free of debris that could potentially
punch a hole in the plastic liner. Sand spread evenly within the
bed area provides a good foundation.
Bed framing made from 2-by-6’s or 2-by-8’s is sufficient to
construct a float bed. Most float trays are slightly smaller than
14 by 27 inches. Float tray dimensions can be used to calculate
the dimensions needed for the float bed, but allow for a very
small amount of extra space in case trays are slightly larger than
expected. Cover any extra space that must be left, as open water
will only lead to increased algae growth and potential insect
Six-millimeter plastic is more forgiving and preferred over
thinner plastic. The plastic should be draped over the frame and
pushed into corners before filling with water. The addition of
water to the bed will complete the forming of the plastic to the
sides, and only then should the plastic be tacked to the frames.
Stapling through plastic strapping materials makes a more
secure attachment of the plastic lining to the frames. The bed
should be no wider than can be covered by a conventional cover
stretched over bows. Bows should be 2 to 4 ft apart and can be
constructed of metal or PVC pipe but need to be strong enough
to support the wet weight of the cover. Bows spaced wider apart
will need to be stronger than those spaced closer together. Allowing some head space over the plant aids ventilation.
Covering materials are most commonly made from either
spun-bonded polypropylene (Reemay covers) or spun-bonded
polyethylene (Continental covers). Both provide some protection from the cold and rain. However, temperatures inside the
beds can fall below outside temperatures during the night. The
most plausible explanation is that evaporative cooling inside the
bed is responsible for the drop in temperature. Outside beds
may not be suitable for seeding much earlier than the middle
of April unless supplemental heat is used. Heat can be obtained
from 150-watt light bulbs placed at each bow or every other
bow, depending on the degree of heat need anticipated. If any
electrical appliances or equipment are used near the float bed,
a ground fault interrupt (GFI) should be installed at the outlet
or in line.
Plastic covers can help reduce rain damage to freshly seeded
trays and trays where plants have not covered the cell. However,
failure to remove the plastic when the sun comes out can damage seeds and kill plants very quickly. A clear cover heats up
inside quickly, and a black plastic cover left on for an extended
period of time during rainy weather can cause plants to stretch
due to lack of light. Once plants stretch, they will not recover.
Greenhouse grown plants are more susceptible to rapid changes
in temperature and should have at least two days to acclimate
in an outside bed prior to a cold snap. Newly plugged plants are
also susceptible to wind damage, which can desiccate plants.
Normal plant bed covers are usually sufficient to protect plants.
Once new roots become established (two days is usually sufficient), wind is less of a problem.
Target Spot, Rhizoctonia Samping Off, and Blue Mold
• Check float beds regularly for problems, and treat when
symptoms of disease are first observed if a routine fungicide
program is not in place.
• Fungicides containing mancozeb (Manzate Pro-Stick in CT,
PA, SC, NC, OH, TN and KY; Penncozeb in VA) can be used
for prevention of target spot and damping-off. Routine application is recommended for facilities with a history of target
spot or damping-off. Regular applications of mancozeb also
offer protection against blue mold. Apply in enough water to
achieve coverage of leaves and stems. Avoid treating plants
smaller than the size of a dime due to risk of plant injury.
• Quadris fungicide is labeled for use on tobacco transplants
only for the control of target spot. This fungicide can be
used only once before transplanting, and growers must have
a copy of the Special Local Need label (labeled in MD, SC,
KY. NC, IN, GA, VA, PA and TN) in their possession at the
time of treatment. Apply at a rate of 4 ml/1000 sq. ft (just
under 1 tsp), using 5 gal/1000 sq. ft to achieve good coverage. For best results, make this application after the first or
second clipping, or when symptoms are first observed. If
needed, mancozeb can be used prior to and after treatment
with Quadris. The application of Quadris in the greenhouse
counts against the total number of applications allowed for
the crop once in the field.
• If blue mold threatens or is found in your area, treat with
mancozeb or Aliette WDG. Consult your local Cooperative
Extension agent or news outlets to learn about the current
status of blue mold.
Special Considerations for Outside
Direct-Seeded Float Beds
Production of tobacco transplants in outside direct-seeded
beds is inherently more risky than greenhouse production.
Though the cost of transplants is lower in direct-seeded outside
beds, the chances of plant loss are greater. Although results are
related to the uncertainty of the weather, the risk of plant loss
can be reduced by good preparation and management.
Construction of an outside float bed doesn’t have to be complicated. However, a few details can make construction easier. A
level spot is essential, because water will find the level. Having
a deep end and a shallow end can result in fertilizers settling
to the low end and, as water evaporates, trays may be stranded
without water on the shallow end.
Field Selection and Soil Preparation
Bob Pearce, Edwin Ritchey, and David Reed
Field Site Selection
specifically for cover crops and provide similar benefits to winter
cereal grains. In addition to these benefits, limited data suggests
that some of the brassica cover crops may help to reduce mild
to moderate soil compaction. One limitation of brassica cover
crops is that many species are prone to winter kill, so including
a winter cereal with the brassica is recommended. Furthermore,
like the legumes (vetch in particular), if certain brassicas are
allowed to go to seed, they can become a nuisance weed in the
following cash crop.
Crop rotation. The benefit of crop rotation for reducing certain
diseases is well known (see Disease Management section); however, rotation also has significant agronomic benefits. A good
rotation scheme is a key element to maintaining the long-term
productivity of fields used for tobacco production. Continuous
tillage and production of tobacco can result in losses of soil organic matter, weakened soil structure, and severe soil erosion. All
of these factors lead to declining productivity over time. In some
cases, rotation may be necessary for growers who are required
to have a conservation compliance plan to remain eligible for
government farm programs. Even though tobacco itself is no
longer covered under any federal farm programs, a grower who
is out of compliance with their conservation plan on any part of
a covered farm risks losing benefits for all commodities.
A good long term rotation for maximum agronomic benefits
would be one in which tobacco is grown on a specific site for no
more than two years in a row, after which a sod or sod/legume
crop is planted and maintained for at least four years before
returning to tobacco production. The advantage of this rotation
is that the long period in a sod crop helps restore the organic
matter and soil structure lost during tobacco production. Unfortunately, many tobacco growers do not have sufficient land
resources to maintain a rotation of this length. Shorter rotations
away from tobacco are still very beneficial from a disease management standpoint and slow the degradation of soil structure
compared to continuous tobacco production. Some rotation to
a sod or hay crop, even if it is of short duration, is better than
no rotation at all.
Herbicide carryover has become an increasing concern for
tobacco in rotation with pasture/hay fields in recent years due
to the use of pasture herbicides containing the active ingredients
of picloram or aminopyralid. Brand names of these herbicides
include Grazon, Surmount, Milestone, and Forefront. Tobacco
should not be planted in fields which have had aminopyralid
applied in the previous two years. For picloram, the period of
time needed before planting tobacco is longer than two years,
but not well-defined. Products containing picloram should
never be applied to land that is intended to be a part of a tobacco
rotation, and tobacco should not be planted in a field with any
known history of picloram use until test plants have been grown
in the soil for a few weeks and observed for injury symptoms.
See the label for other restrictions and information.
Rotation to other row crops such as corn or soybean is also
beneficial to tobacco but less so than a rotation that includes sod
crops. Rotations in which the rotational row crops are grown
using conservation tillage practices are of the most benefit.
Ideally, sites for tobacco production should be chosen two
to three years in advance of planting, which allows for observation of any problems, such as poor drainage, low fertility or
soil pH, and specific types of weeds common in a field. Several
factors need to be considered when selecting sites for tobacco,
including soil properties, rotational requirements, conservation
compliance requirements, potential herbicide carryover, and
proximity to curing facilities or irrigation.
The roots of a tobacco plant are very sensitive to the aeration
conditions in the soil. In saturated soils, tobacco roots begin to
die within six to eight hours, with significant root loss occurring in as little as 12 to 24 hours. This sensitivity to aeration
conditions is the reason tobacco plants wilt or “flop” after heavy
rainfall events. Tobacco grows best in soils with good internal
drainage, which helps keep excess water away from the roots.
Of course, tobacco also needs water to grow, and a soil with a
good water holding capacity is an advantage during the shortterm dry spells that are common during summers in the regions
where burley and dark tobacco are grown. The best soils for
burley and dark tobacco production tend to be well-structured
silt loam or silty clay loam soils.
Cover Crops. The benefits of using winter cover crops are well
documented. Winter cover crops protect the soil from erosion losses, scavenge leftover nutrients from the soil, and add
organic matter to soil when they are plowed under or killed in
the spring. Winter cereal grains such as wheat and rye are the
most commonly used cover crops in tobacco production. These
grains, when planted in September or October, make good
growth by early winter to help reduce soil erosion and grow very
rapidly in spring as the weather warms. Winter grains should be
plowed under or killed in early spring no later than when they
are heading. Waiting too long can result in nutrients being tied
up by the cover crop, significant reductions in soil moisture
during dry springs, and, in some cases, organic matter toxicity
to the tobacco crop. Organic matter toxicity can occur when a
heavy cover crop is plowed under just before transplanting. The
breakdown of the cover crop reduces oxygen in the root zone
and may result in the production of organic compounds and/
or nitrite that are toxic to roots. Affected tobacco plants are
yellowed and stunted but usually recover in two to three weeks.
Winter legumes, such as vetch or crimson clover, may also
be used as cover crops, either alone or in combination with a
winter cereal. Alone they do not produce as much growth in
the fall compared to winter annual cereals when planted at
typical cover crop planting times. However, legumes have the
potential to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and supply additional nitrogen to the crop that will follow them. In practice,
the amount of nitrogen fixed by legume cover crops is limited
due to the relatively short period of growth in the spring prior
to termination.
Brassica cover crops including oilseed radishes, mustards,
and turnips can also be used as cover crops for tobacco fields.
There are several brassica species that have been developed
Tobacco growers may also want to consider some form of conservation tillage for tobacco as well to help maintain long term
soil productivity. In row crop rotations, precautions should be
observed to minimize the potential carryover of herbicides and
adhere to rotational guidelines on pesticide labels.
The proximity of tobacco fields to curing facilities is an obvious but often overlooked selection criterion. A large amount
of time and money can be wasted transporting tobacco (and
often crews) between the field and the curing barn. Consider
placing new barns in an area that can be accessed from several
tobacco production fields so that a good plan of rotation can
be established.
the soil moisture content when free water drainage ceases and
occurs about two days after a “normal” rain.
Naturally occurring compacted zones, known as fragipans,
are also found in some soils, more commonly in Western
Kentucky and Western Tennessee. These compacted areas are
typically found deeper than tillage compaction and may range
in depth from 12 to 30 inches or more. Fragipans are responsible
for poor water drainage in the spring and limited plant-available
water during the summer. The degree to which they adversely
affect tobacco production depends upon the depth and severity
of compaction.
The aboveground signs of a soil compaction problem are difficult to recognize and are often mistaken for other problems.
These signs can include stunted growth, multiple nutrient deficiencies, and reduced drought tolerance due to limited root
growth. If soil compaction is suspected, the best way to identify
it is by digging up and examining roots. The root system of a
normal tobacco plant should be roughly bowl-shaped with a
horizontal spread approximately two to three inches wider than
the leaf spread. The presence of flat spots or areas with little or
no roots suggests that compaction may be a problem (Figure 1).
Compaction in fields may also be characterized with the use
of a soil probe or a penetrometer, a device specifically designed
to measure compaction. The penetrometer is a pointed rod
with a tee-handle attached and a gauge for reading the pressure
required to push the rod into the soil. It is important to note
the depth at which the compacted layer begins and the overall
thickness of the compacted layer so that appropriate remediation procedures can be planned.
The best management for dealing with tillage-induced
compaction is to avoid it. This approach means not working
ground that is too wet and avoiding overworking. The potential
for compaction can be lessened by practicing rotation, which
adds organic matter to the soil and strengthens soil structure.
Using less intensive tillage implements like chisel plows and field
cultivators can also help. Deep tillage to break up compaction
should only be used when the compacted layer has been confirmed and should only be used to the depth of that layer. Deep
tillage to depths greater than the compacted layer does little to
improve plant growth and results in excessive fuel use. Further,
Conventional Tillage
The typical tillage scenario for tobacco production usually
involves moldboard plowing in late winter, often followed by
smoothing with a heavy drag and two to four diskings prior to
transplanting. Some growers may use a power tiller in place of
the disk to break up clods and produce a smooth seedbed. After
transplanting, many growers continue to till the soil with two
or three cultivation operations. Compared to most other crops
currently grown in the southeastern U.S., the level of tillage used
for tobacco is intense. Tillage in tobacco production is useful to
help control weeds, incorporate cover crops, reduce compaction, improve aeration, and incorporate fertilizers and chemicals.
However, excessive tillage or tillage under the wrong conditions
can create compaction and lead to soil loss due to erosion.
All soils consist of the solid particles and the gaps or spaces,
called pores, between the solids. In an uncompacted soil, the
pores make up about 50 percent of the soil volume and are well
distributed between small and large pores. Smaller pores are
generally filled with water, while the large pores may fill with
water during a rain event but quickly drain and are usually
filled with air. This balance of air and water is beneficial for root
growth. When a soil becomes compacted there is a significant
reduction in volume and a loss of pore space, with the large pores
being lost more readily than the small pores. Compaction creates
a physical barrier that limits root growth and water drainage.
Intense tillage contributes to soil compaction in at least two
ways. Tillage destroys soil organic matter and weakens soil
structure, making the soil less able to resist the physical forces
of compaction. The more intense the tillage or the longer tillage
has been practiced, the weaker the soil structure will become.
Tillage implements such as plows and disks exert tremendous
pressures on the soil at points of contact. So even though tillage
may seem to fluff up the soil at the surface, often compaction
is taking place at the bottom of the tillage implement. Power
tillers can exert tremendous pressure at the point where the
tines contact the soil, resulting in compaction. The use of these
implements to increase drying of wet soils before transplanting
tends to compound the problem and may lead to poor plant
performance throughout the season. Power tillers may do
more damage to soil structure in one pass than several diskings. Tillage-induced compaction generally occurs from four
to eight inches below the surface, depending upon the tillage
implement used. Silt loam soils are most susceptible to tillageinduced compaction when tilled at soil moisture contents of
about 15 to 25 percent or near field capacity. Field capacity is
Figure 1. Tobacco root system showing distinct signs of soil
compaction. Note the flattened appearance of the bottom,
protrusion of the transplant root ball, and limited new root
growth from the lower portion of the root ball.
deep tillage should be done when the soil is dry enough for the
soil to fracture, typically in the fall. If deep tillage is conducted
when the soil is too wet, the soil will not properly fracture and
can lead to increased soil compaction due to the heavy weight
of the machinery typically used for this operation.
Shallow in-row tillage has been shown to be an effective
means of reducing the negative effects of compaction on tobacco in some Western Kentucky soils (Table 1). In these studies, the
compacted layer was measured using a penetrometer, and the
depth and thickness of the layer were determined. The degree
of compaction was characterized as slight, moderate, or severe.
In all cases where moderate or severe compaction existed there
was a positive benefit from in-row sub-soiling. Where compaction was only slight, no benefit from sub-soiling was observed.
In-row sub-soiling is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to
deal with shallow compaction in tobacco, as long as the tillage
is done when the soil is relatively dry. In-row sub-soiling under
wet soil conditions can lead to the development of an air cavity
under the roots of young transplants.
Cultivation of established tobacco can be used to control
weeds but must be conducted at the appropriate time and for
the appropriate reason. Before the widespread use of preplant
chemicals for weed control, it was not uncommon for a tobacco
producer to cultivate a crop five or more times during a season.
Some producers were so accustomed to cultivating that they
just made it a routine management practice in their operation.
Cultivation should only be used in certain situations, mainly
to control weeds. Other reasons for cultivation include incorporation of fungicides to control diseases such as black shank,
incorporation of urea-based fertilizers to reduce volatilization
losses of N, and to push soil around the base of plants to help
prevent ground suckers or lodging with tall or “leggy” plants.
When it is necessary to cultivate, the cultivators should be
set as shallow as possible but still remove weeds or disrupt the
soil-to-root contact of the weeds. Cultivating deeper than necessary will pull moisture from depth to the soil surface and cause
the soil to dry out faster. Cultivating too close to the plant will
prune many roots or can physically “shake” the plants, disrupting the soil-to-root contact. Depending on the amount of roots
pruned or the extent of shaking,” plants can either be stunted
or, in severe cases, killed.
Other factors should be considered prior to cultivating. Two
common soil-borne diseases in tobacco are black shank and
Fusarium wilt (discussed in the Disease Management section).
Both of these diseases can be moved within and between fields
on equipment. Another factor that one should consider prior to
cultivation is weed control. A soil-applied herbicide will form
a barrier in the soil that prevents weed seed from germinating.
Cultivating can disrupt this barrier and actually allow weed
seed to germinate that might not have germinated if the ground
was not disturbed. A series of field trials conducted in Central
Kentucky showed that cultivation was not necessary to produce
good burley tobacco yields when adequate weed control was
achieved with preplant herbicides (Table 2).
Throughout the burley and dark tobacco growing regions,
tobacco is grown on sloping fields, much of it on slopes of 6
percent or more. When these fields are tilled, they are extremely
vulnerable to erosion losses for at least two to three months during the spring and early summer when strong storms with heavy
rainfall are common. Gullies to the depth of plowing are a common sight in tobacco fields (Figure 2). Losses can be minimized
by waiting until just
before transplanting Figure 2. Severe gully erosion in
to do secondary till- conventionally prepared tobacco field.
age operations and
by planting rows of
tobacco across the
slope rather than up
and down the slope.
Leaving the tractor
tracks in place until
the first cultivation
can increase surface
roughness, thus lessening the velocity
of water runoff and
soil erosion. Alternatively, some growers
may want to consider
some form of conservation tillage.
Table 1. Effect of in-row sub-soiling on the yield of burley
and dark tobacco
Table 2. Cured leaf yield at Spindletop (ST) and Woodford County (WC), KY
for 2008, 2009, and 2010 †Cured Leaf Yield (lb/A)
Soil Type Compaction Conventional Sub-soiled
2200 A*
2605 B
* Means followed by the same letter are not significantly
different at p = 10%.
Data from Lloyd Murdock and others, 1986.
Cured Leaf Yield (lb/A)
ST 2008 ST 2009 ST 2010 WC 2010
No Cultivation, not weeded
No Cultivation, hand-weeded
--Early Cultivation
Late Cultivation (at layby)
Early and Late Cultivation
Three Cultivations
------†No statistical differences were observed between treatments for any year
or location.
‡ No data collected.
Conservation Tillage
No-till tobacco works best on medium-textured soil (silt
loam to sandy loams). Tobacco can be grown no-till in clay
ground, but the grower must be patient and wait for the soil
to dry sufficiently before transplanting. One of the persistent
myths about no-till tobacco is that it can be planted when conventionally prepared ground is still too wet. In fact, experience
has shown that it takes two or three days longer for no-till sites
to dry out prior to setting. Even though the ground may be firm
enough to support equipment, the mulch layer slows the drying
rate at the surface. Transplanting in ground that is too wet can
lead to compaction of the trench sidewall, which restricts root
growth and may suppress growth and yield potential.
Minimum or strip-till may be better on heavy clay ground,
since some of the surface residue is incorporated, allowing the
soil to warm up and dry out quicker. These methods require
additional tillage passes, leaving the soil more vulnerable to
erosion than no-till. Growers using strip tillage are able to transplant using their normal transplanter. However, they often have
one or more modified tillage implements matched to the row
spacing and number of rows of the transplanter to prepare the
10- to 12-inch-wide planting band.
In conservation tillage studies conducted in Tennessee
during the 2009 growing season, no-till and strip-till yields
compared favorably to a chisel plow-disk conventional tillage
system at the Greeneville Research and Education Center on a
deep, well-drained loam soil (Table 3). On a moderately welldrained silt loam soil with a fragipan at the Springfield Research
and Education Center, no-till yielded significantly less than
strip-till and conventional tillage.
A good cover crop or previous crop residue is an essential
part of successful conservation tillage tobacco production.
The cover crop or residue helps to reduce soil erosion losses
and conserve water in the soil, much like mulch in the garden.
Tobacco growers have been successful planting no-till tobacco
in winter grain cover crops, sod, and row crop residues.
One of the keys to success when planting no-till tobacco
into a small grain is timing the kill of the cover crop. The initial
burndown of winter small grains should be made when the
cover is approximately 6 to 8 inches tall, which allows a sufficient
buildup of residue while limiting the production of straw that
complicates transplanting. Research has shown that tobacco
transplants grew better and yielded more when the cover crop
was killed at least 30 days prior to transplanting. The initial burndown should be made with a product containing glyphosate. A
follow-up treatment with a paraquat-containing product may
The adoption of conservation tillage methods for tobacco
production has been relatively slow compared to common row
crops such as corn or soybean. Traditionally, tobacco growers
have used intensive tillage to care for this high value crop, and
many still believe that tobacco must be cultivated routinely for
good growth. There are other reasons that tobacco growers
have been slow to adopt conservation tillage, including a lack
of appropriate transplanters, limited weed control options, and
uncertainty over the future levels of tobacco production. Some
of these issues have been partially addressed such that some
growers now consider conservation tillage to be a feasible option for tobacco production.
The principal advantage of conservation tillage is a reduction in soil loss caused by erosion; however, there are other
advantages for the grower as well. The mulch layer on the soil
holds in moisture and may help reduce stress during periods
of short-term drought. In addition, the mulch layer may help
to keep the leaf cleaner by reducing mud splash on cut tobacco
during late-season rain storms. Fewer heavy tillage trips means
less time and less fuel use than with conventional tobacco
production. No-till or strip-till fields may also have better trafficability in wetter times, allowing more timely application of
needed fungicides, insecticides, or sucker control materials
during rainy periods.
Conservation tillage includes no-till, in which the soil is not
worked prior to transplanting; minimum-till, in which the soil is
worked in such a way as to leave 30 to 50 percent of the residue
on the surface; and strip-till, in which a 10- to 12-inch-wide band
is tilled before transplanting. Each system has advantages and
disadvantages that the tobacco grower must consider.
No-till tobacco is really a form of strip-tillage in which the
tillage and transplanting functions occur in one operation.
Considerable modifications must be made to the transplanter
for successful no-till planting. Figure 3 shows an example of the
modifications required. At a minimum, a no-till transplanter
needs a wavy (fluted) coulter in front to cut residue, a subsurface tillage shank to till the root zone and pull the unit into
the ground, and modified press wheels to close the planting
trench. Some growers have added row cleaners to assist in moving residue away from the row, allowing easier planting. Costs
for modifying conventional transplanters range from $300 to
$600 per row, depending on how much fabrication growers are
able to do themselves. No-till ready transplanters are currently
available from some manufacturers.
Figure 3. Modifications to a transplanter for no-till transplanting of
Table 3. Burley Yields by Tillage System, Greeneville and
Springfield, TN 2009.
Cured Leaf Yield (lb/A)
Tillage System
1854 a*
Narrow Chisel Strip-Till
2241 b
KMC Strip-Till
2236 b
Rototill Strip
2282 b
KMC Strip plus Rototill
2256 b
Chisel Plow-disk
2128 b
* Means followed by the same letter are not significantly
different at P= 10%. No differences in yield at Greeneville.
be made within a few days of transplanting when residual weed
control products are applied.
When conservation tillage follows a sod crop, it is best to
burn down the sod in the late fall. If erosion is a concern due to
steep land and/or a thin cover of old sod, a no-till cover crop can
be planted in the fall to be burned down the following spring.
If burndown occurs in the spring, it should be at least four to
six weeks prior to transplanting. This allows sufficient time for
the root mass to break down so that the soil will crumble and
fill in around the plant root ball. Research at the University of
Tennessee has shown advantages for fall burndown. Elimination
of a sod that includes alfalfa can be particularly difficult due to
the persistence of the alfalfa crowns. To eliminate alfalfa stands
to prepare for no-till tobacco, an application of burndown in the
fall and a follow-up application in the spring may be required.
Even then, some volunteer alfalfa may be present in no-till
tobacco fields.
(KY, TN, and NC). Growers must take care to obtain a copy of
the supplemental label for this use, as it does not appear on the
label normally included with the product.
There are labeled weed control products that work well for
no-till tobacco, but “rescue” options are very limited, so it is best
to choose sites with as low a weed potential as possible. Winter
pastures, feed lot areas, and areas with sparse cover often make
poor sites for conservation tillage tobacco due to large amounts
of weed seed in the soil and/or established populations of perennial weeds. Perennial weeds and vines should be controlled
during the rotation prior to growing no-till tobacco.
Spartan should be a part of any weed control program for
conservation-till tobacco. Research has demonstrated that this
product provides more consistent control in the absence of
tillage than other herbicide options. Either Prowl or Command
can be tank-mixed with Spartan for improved control of certain
weeds and grasses. However, the most consistent control has
been achieved by applying Spartan seven to 10 days prior to
transplanting and then making an application of Command
within seven days after transplanting. The post-transplant application of Command helps to control weeds in the strips of
soil disturbed by the transplanting operation. For all herbicides,
the highest labeled rate for the soil type is recommended when
used in conservation tillage (see Weed Management section for
labeled rates of herbicides.)
Poast can be used over tobacco for control of annual and
perennial grasses, including johnsongrass. In cases where weed
control has been poor due to environmental conditions, some
growers have used mechanical means, such as lawn mowers
and cultivators, to control weeds in conservation-till tobacco.
Weed Control for Conservation Tillage
General weed control for tobacco production is covered in
the Weed Management section of the guide, but some recommendations specific to conservation tillage are covered here.
Because no-till tobacco is a relatively small use crop, there are
very few products labeled specifically for this use. However,
many glyphosate-containing products have a statement on the
label that allows the products to be used 30 to 35 days prior to
planting of crops not specifically listed on the label. Be sure to
check the label of the specific product that will be used. Some
products containing paraquat (Gramoxone SL 2.0) have been
labeled specifically for use on no-till tobacco in specific states
Edwin Ritchey, Bob Pearce, and David Reed
Management of Soil pH and Liming
he primary goal of a good fertility management program for
tobacco is to insure an adequate supply of mineral nutrients
to produce high yields of good quality leaf. Fertility management
begins with a good estimate of the capacity of the soil to supply
nutrients to the crop. Soil types vary considerably across the
regions where burley and dark tobacco are grown so the most
reliable estimates of soil nutrient supply can be obtained from
a soil test run at a lab operated by the land grant university or
Department of Agriculture in the state where you grow tobacco
(Table 1). Soil tests at these labs often cost the grower very
little, and the procedures and recommendations for each state
have been thoroughly tested and reviewed over many years to
provide growers with recommendations appropriate to local
conditions. Tobacco fields should be soil tested at least six to
12 months before planting to allow sufficient time to plan for
the correction of any deficiencies that may be identified. A soil
test should be conducted at least every other year for all tobacco
fields to be in compliance with the industry G.A.P. program.
Given the potential value of tobacco crops and the relatively
low cost of soil testing, an annual soil test is advised. All tobacco
growers should carefully review their contracts to insure that
fertility recommendations are also within the buyer-specified
ranges for the type of tobacco they are growing.
One of the most important pieces of information obtained
from a soil test is the soil pH. Tobacco grows best when the
soil pH is kept in the range of 5.8 to 6.5. To insure the pH at
midseason does not fall below this range the target soil pH
prior to planting is typically 6.2 to 6.6. When soil pH is outside
of the optimum range, nutrient deficiencies or toxicities can
occur. Throughout the regions where tobacco is grown, soil
pH tends to go down over time due to the effects of leaching,
plant growth, and repeated applications of acidifying forms of
nitrogen. Low soil pH can be easily corrected with applications
of agricultural limestone. The neutralizing value of agricultural
limestone (ag-lime) varies considerably among sources so be
sure to consult your local county extension office or state Department of Agriculture for information on ag-lime quality in
your area. Limestone should be applied far enough in advance
of planting (6 to 12 months) to allow the ag-lime to react and
fully neutralize soil acidity.
Pelletized limestone is often promoted to be a better and
faster acting alternative to ag-lime but it is considerably more
expensive. Research at the University of Kentucky has shown
that even though the relative neutralizing value (RNV) for pel26
Table 1. Additional resources for information on soil testing and recommended levels of fertilization for burley and dark tobacco
Publication # Title of publication
Lime and Nutrient
Soil Test Note 9 Burley Tobacco
Soil Test Note 7 Dark Fired Tobacco
NC Agricultural
Chemicals Manual
Soil Testing
Lime and Fertilizer
Recommendations for
the Various Crops of
URL for on-line version of publication
letized limestone is typically higher than ag-lime, the reaction
time is similar. There are two factors that influence the reaction
time of pelletized lime, distribution patterns and the binding
materials used to make the pellets. Pelletized lime comes into
contact with less soil compared to ag-lime and is slower to neutralize soil acidity. Further, the lignosulfonate binding material
used to manufacture the pellets must break down or solubilize
before lime can become active to neutralize acidity. Even though
the bulk of ag-lime applied may take a few months to a year to
become fully active, there is generally several hundred pounds
of fines (dust) per ton that react very quickly and can produce
as much pH change in a short period of time as a few hundred
pounds of pelleted lime added to the fertilizer. The practice of
mixing low rates of pelletized lime with fertilizer is typically not
a cost effective way to manage soil pH and should not substitute
for a good soil sampling and liming program.
Manganese (Mn) is a micronutrient needed by tobacco in
very small amounts that can become toxic in some soils if the soil
pH drops to 5.4 or below. Tobacco plants showing Mn toxicity
will be stunted and have a mottled appearance with yellow leaf
tissue between dark green veins. Symptoms are typically most
noticeable between four to six weeks after transplanting. The
stunting in severe cases of Mn toxicity can reduce leaf yields by
as much as 400 pounds per acre. By the time symptoms have
been observed much of the damage has already been done;
however, if caught early enough, a rescue treatment of 1000
pounds. per acre of bagged lime (finely ground limestone)
may be applied and cultivated into the soil to minimize yield
losses. This treatment is much less cost effective than following
a regular program of soil testing and lime application to prevent
Mn toxicity.
crop. Higher amounts of N are recommended for tobacco following tobacco or row crops and on soils with moderate or
lower drainage classifications. Consult your local cooperative
extension office for nitrogen rate recommendations tailored to
the soils and local conditions of your area.
Ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) was the grower-preferred
source of N for burley and dark tobacco until it became difficult to find and more expensive due to security concerns.
Calcium-ammonium nitrate (27-0-0) is available in some
tobacco growing regions and contains the same proportions
of ammonium-N and nitrate-N as ammonium nitrate, thus
can be used in a similar manner. Other commonly available N
sources (including urea 46-0-0) can be used satisfactorily for
tobacco production, particularly on well-drained soils where
a good liming program is followed and soil pH is maintained
in the range of 6.0 to 6.6. Nitrogen solutions (28 to 32 % N) are
half urea and half ammonium nitrate and are good N sources
for tobacco production in the areas where they are available.
Handling liquid fertilizers requires specialized equipment but
they are convenient and easy to apply. Once applied to the soil,
the availability of nutrients to the plant are the same whether
the formulation of the fertilizer is dry or liquid. Fertilizers
containing urea should be incorporated into the soil within 24
hours of application or treated with a urease inhibitor to reduce
volatilization losses if the fertilizer is left on the soil surface.
If soil pH is moderately to strongly acidic (pH 5.8 or less) and
no lime is applied, using a nonacid-forming source of N (sodium
nitrate, calcium nitrate, or sodium-potassium nitrate) will lower
the risk of manganese toxicity. In recent years, sodium nitrate
and sodium potassium nitrate have become generally unavailable and calcium nitrate is expensive per unit of N. Timely
ag-lime application is a better economical approach for pH
management. If tobacco is grown on sandy soils or soils that
tend to waterlog, using ammonium sources (urea, ammonium
nitrate, ammoniated phosphates, ammonium sulfate, nitrogen
solutions) will lower the risk of leaching and denitrification
The entire nitrogen requirement can be applied pre-plant
broadcast on medium-textured well-drained soils. Applying
broadcast nitrogen as near to transplanting as possible will
significantly lessen the chances for losses of applied nitrogen
during heavy spring rainfall events. Because losses of fertilizer
nitrogen can occur on sandy soils (leaching) or soils with slow
Nitrogen Management
Burley and dark tobacco require more nitrogen (N) than
other tobacco types but not as much as has been historically
applied in the traditional growing areas. Nitrogen recommendations vary from state to state but are in the range of 150 to 275
pounds N per acre. Due to the transient nature of soil N in the
regions where tobacco is grown there is no reliable soil test to
predict N fertilizer needs. Recommended N fertilization rates
depend primarily on the field cropping history and soil drainage
class. The lower end of the rate scale is generally recommended
for tobacco on well-drained soils following a sod or sod-legume
Table 2. Cured leaf yield of burley tobacco as impacted by preplant and side-dress nitrogen rates (average of 12 total trials over
three years in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia
drainage (denitrification), it is helpful to split nitrogen applications on these types of soils, applying one-third of the nitrogen
before transplanting and the remaining nitrogen two or three
weeks after transplanting.
A project comparing combinations of pre-plant (PP) and side
dress (SD) N rates was conducted in Kentucky, Tennessee, and
Virginia with a total of 12 locations between 2004 and 2006. The
results of this study showed that over all locations, cured leaf
yields could be maximized with 80 lb PP + 100 lb SD, 160 lb PP
+ 50 lb SD or 240 lb PP with no SD (Table 2). At 9 out of the 12
locations, 160 pounds N per acre with no SD actually resulted
in maximum yield, but in three of the trials, during wetter
than average seasons, the crop did respond to an additional 50
pounds of N side dressed. At no time did the crop respond to
side dress applications when 240 pounds of N was applied as a
pre-plant application. These results are consistent with the N
recommendations made for burley tobacco and clearly show
no yield advantage to using higher than recommended rates of
N. Excess nitrogen can contribute to higher levels of tobacco
specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), which are discussed in more
detail in a later section of this guide.
Pre-plant Nitrogen (lb/A)
Cured Leaf Yield (lb/A)
* Yields shown in bold type are not significantly different from
each other as determine by statistical analysis.
Side-dress (lb/A)
Secondary Nutrients
Secondary nutrients include Calcium (Ca), Magnesium
(Mg), and Sulfur (S). Calcium levels are almost always adequate
in soils maintained at the recommended pH for tobacco. Magnesium is usually adequate for tobacco growth, however most
soil test labs will report Mg levels. If low levels of Mg are noted
on the soil test report, a grower may apply dolomitic lime, if lime
is also required, or a product like sulfate of potash-magnesia.
Sulfur deficiencies have not been reported for tobacco within
the regions where burley and dark tobacco are grown.
Phosphorus and Potassium
Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are relatively stable in
soils, so fertilizer additions should be determined primarily
by soil testing. Soil test procedures and recommendations are
optimized for the soil types in each state, so you should use the
recommendations provided by a land grant university or the
Department of Agriculture in your state (Table 1).
Summaries of soil test results in several tobacco growing
states have revealed relatively high levels of P and K in many
fields with a history of tobacco production. Some fields may
only require N for the current crop due to high levels of residual
P and K. Growers are encouraged to take full advantage of soil
nutrients to help reduce their fertilizer expenses.
Spring applications of chloride-containing fertilizers, such
as muriate of potash (0-0-60) at rates greater than 50 pounds of
chloride per acre, lead to excessive levels of chloride in cured
burley tobacco leaf. High chloride levels lead to increased curing and storage problems, decreased combustibility of the leaf,
and ultimately, greatly reduced quality and usability of the cured
leaf. Some tobacco buying company contracts specifically limit
the amount of muriate of potash that can be applied during a
growing season. Consequently, sulfate of potash (0-0-50) should
be the major potassium fertilizer used on tobacco fields after
January 1 of the current crop year. Recent shortages of sulfate
of potash mean growers must consider other alternatives such
a sulfate of potash-magnesia (K-mag, 0-0-22) or potassium
nitrate (13-0-44) to meet their potash needs. Another option
for growers to consider is fall applications of muriate of potash.
Applying in the fall allows time for a portion of the chloride
to leach below the root zone and limit the uptake of Cl. Leaf
chloride levels are higher with fall applications than they are
when sulfate of potash is used but generally remain below the
industry accepted standard of 1 percent chloride in cured leaf.
Consult your local cooperative extension office to see if fall applications of muriate of potash are recommended in your area.
Only two micronutrients are routinely recommended for
burley or dark tobacco production. Molybdenum (Mo) is recommended for use on burley tobacco in Kentucky when the
soil pH is below 6.6. Research and field trials have shown that
setter water applications are equally as effective as broadcast
applications for supplying molybdenum to the crop. Molybdenum can be purchased as a dry solid or a liquid. Either source
is satisfactory when molybdenum is needed.
For broadcast field applications, apply at the rate of 1 lb of
sodium molybdate (6.4 oz of molybdenum) per acre. Dissolve
this amount of dry sodium molybdate (or 2 gal of 2.5% Mo liquid product) in 20 to 40 gal of water and spray uniformly over
each acre. Because sodium molybdate is compatible with many
herbicides used on tobacco, it can be applied with herbicides
normally applied as a spray in water. Combining the two chemicals can result in savings in application costs because only one
trip over the field is necessary. It is recommended that not more
than 2 pounds of sodium molybdate (12.8 oz of molybdenum)
per acre be used during a five-year period.
For transplant water applications, use 0.25 to 0.50 pound
sodium molybdate (1.6 to 3.2 oz of molybdenum) per acre. If
dry sodium molybdate is used, divide the total recommended
amount (0.25 to 0.50 lb/A) equally among the number of barrels
of water used per acre. For example, if two barrels of water per
acre are used, add one-half of the total recommended amount to
each barrel and fill the barrel with water. Adding the dry material
before filling the barrel will aid in dissolving and mixing. If a 2.5
percent liquid source of molybdenum is used with two barrels
of setter water per acre, add 1 to 2 quarts of the liquid product
per barrel before filling the barrel with water.
Boron (B) deficiency has been reported on tobacco in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. A common symptom
noticed by burley and dark tobacco growers is leaf breakage.
The midrib of the leaf is typically broken or cracked about 1 to
2 inches from the point of attachment to the stalk. Often there
are a series of what appear to be small slits in the underside of the
midrib near the area of the break. Another symptom observed
on young tobacco is bud yellowing and distortion, eventually
resulting in bud death in severe cases. Occasionally, a hollowed
area has been observed in the pith of the stalk, just below the
bud, in burley. Boron deficiency has been observed more often
in dark tobacco than in burley and is often associated with soils
that have a pH above 7.0. In fields with a high pH where boron
deficiency is suspected, a broadcast application of 1 pound of
boron per acre may be warranted. As with all micronutrients,
care must be taken to avoid over application that could lead to
toxicity. Recent research with transplant water applications of
B showed that as little as 0.5 pounds B delivered in 300 gallons
of transplant water per acre was enough to cause B toxicity
symptoms in the young transplants.
No other micronutrient deficiencies have been reported for
field grown tobacco in the areas where burley and dark tobacco
are typically grown. Improper rates of certain micronutrients
could result in toxicity to the plant, so they are not recommended on tobacco unless a deficiency has been identified.
additions needed. Another precaution with blended products
is to insure that chloride levels are acceptable and to use only
products specifically intended for use on tobacco. Occasionally
some high-end fertilizers are promoted based on the added
value of one or more secondary or micronutrients; however, if
there is no true need for those nutrients the grower does not
realize any of that added value in additional cured leaf.
Animal Manures
Animal manures can be an excellent source of nutrients for
crops, but some precautions need to be observed when using
manure for tobacco production. Animal manures are also
known to contain levels of chloride high enough to reduce the
quality of cured tobacco. To avoid chloride problems, cattle
and swine manure applications should be limited to no more
than 10 tons per acre per year. Poultry manures should not be
applied in the spring where tobacco will be grown. Fall applications of poultry litter should not exceed four tons per acre on
ground where tobacco will be planted the following spring. Fall
manure applications should be made only when a living cover
crop will be present to take up and recycle some of the available
N. Excessive rates of manure or manure used in conjunction
with chloride-containing fertilizers may result in unacceptable
chloride levels in the cured leaf. Where possible, it is probably
best to utilize available poultry manure for other crops in the
rotation and gain the benefit of their residual P and K in the
tobacco crop without risking excessive chloride in the cured
leaf. Soil and manure testing should be used to determine if
supplemental applications of fertilizer will be needed.
Another recent concern about manure use on tobacco fields
relates to potential crop injury from pasture herbicides containing the active ingredients picloram and aminopyralid. These
herbicides can be passed into manure from animals consuming
forage from treated fields, either as pasture or as hay. If cattle
or horse manure is used on tobacco fields, it should not come
from animals that have grazed pastures or eaten hay from fields
treated with these herbicides.
Pre-blended Fertilizers
Pre-blended fertilizer products (sometimes called complete
fertilizers) typically contain all three of the primary nutrients
and often claim to have micronutrients as well. Pre-blended
products offer convenience in that the majority of the crops
fertilizer needs can be met with a single application. The main
problem with pre-blended products is that the primary nutrients are present in a fixed ratio, making it difficult for the grower
to meet the needs for one nutrient without over applying one
or more of the others. Typical blends that have been used on
tobacco include 5-10-15 and 6-12-18. At commonly used rates
these materials almost always result in an over application of
P. After many years of repeated applications some old tobacco
patches have built up enough P to go several years with no P
Topping and Sucker Control Management
Andy Bailey, David Reed, Loren Fisher, Scott Whitley, and Bob Pearce
he emergence of the flower buds in a tobacco crop signals a
shift from a vegetative growth stage to a reproductive growth
stage. Flower buds must be removed and suckers controlled
to allow the crop to reach its full yield and quality potential at
harvest. Timely topping and sucker control practices allow more
efficient harvest when the crop reaches maturity.
sucker growth that must be controlled. Topping also stimulates
root growth, which increases nicotine production in the roots
and translocation to the leaves. Secondary plant products that
accumulate in the leaves and improve quality and smoking
characteristics also increase after topping. Topped tobacco
is much less prone to being blown over, since the plant is less
top-heavy and root growth is enhanced.
Early topping reduces the populations of insects, such as
aphids and budworms, that are attracted to the terminal bud
and flower. Early topping is also easier than later topping, since
stalk tissue is softer and much easier to break. Later topping
takes more time, both in the removal of the flower and suckers.
Unless knives or clippers are used, tobacco topped late usually
results in bruised, ragged stalks that are more susceptible to
diseases such as bacterial soft rot (hollow stalk).
Topping refers to the removal of the flower bud along with
some of the uppermost leaves in order to stimulate growth and
development of the remaining leaves. When left untopped or
topped late, tobacco plants put energy into flower and seed
production rather than leaf production, resulting in substantial
yield losses. Topping removes the dominant influence of the
terminal bud over lateral buds or “suckers,” stimulating vigorous
Most important, tobacco should be topped at a stage and
height that will maximize yield and quality and satisfy the
preferences of the buyer.
crops lowers the yield potential of smaller plants. Increased
yield incurred by allowing smaller plants to catch up usually
compensates for extra labor required in making two toppings.
Topping Burley Tobacco
Leaf Number
Dark tobacco should be topped to 16 to 18 harvestable leaves.
Topping to this height maximizes yield potential and allows a
distinct characterization of lug, second, and leaf grades that are
desired by the industry. Lower topping to 12 to 14 leaves does
make tobacco easier to handle on the stick during housing and
may cure better in older barns with narrow tier spacing but
also results in mostly lug and leaf with little or no true seconds.
Plants topped to 12 to 14 leaves do compensate somewhat by
producing larger leaves, but yield is still reduced by 200 pounds
per acre or more compared to tobacco topped to 16 to 18 leaves.
Bloom Stage
Research has shown that topping burley tobacco at 10 to
25 percent bloom (when 10 to 25 percent of the plants in a
field have at least one open flower) generally provides the best
yield and quality. Bloom stage at topping may also depend on
the length of time the tobacco will remain in the field before
harvest. Yields of burley tobacco topped at 75 percent bloom
may be similar or better than tobacco topped at 10 to 25 percent bloom if harvested at three weeks after topping, whereas
tobacco topped at 10 to 25 percent bloom and harvested six
weeks after topping may have improved yield but lower quality.
Later-maturing varieties, such as KT 206, KT 209, N7371,
and HB3307, may respond well to bud topping while bud topping may reduce yields in other varieties. NC 7 and KT 210 are
extremely late-maturing varieties that require bud topping and
may also require several leaves to be removed with the bud to
prevent the plant from getting too tall in some seasons. Specific
varieties may need early topping to produce their best quality.
Early-maturing varieties such as KY14xL8 or KT212 that have
more potential for high sucker pressure will also benefit from
early bud topping to improve quality and improve management
of suckers. Early topping will not affect yields if other factors,
such as harvest time after topping, remain constant.
Sucker Control for Burley and Dark Tobacco
Many of the benefits in topping at the appropriate bloom
stage and leaf number are lost if suckers are not controlled.
Suckers grow vigorously immediately after topping and can
severely reduce yield and quality if not effectively controlled.
Some varieties, such as KY 14xL8 and Narrowleaf Madole, are
known to have more rapid sucker growth than other varieties
and may require more aggressive sucker control strategies.
Three types of chemicals are available for controlling sucker
growth on tobacco:
• Contacts, which are not absorbed by plants and must have
direct contact with suckers and leaf axils, where they physically burn tender suckers
• Local systemics, which must also have direct contact with leaf
axils but are absorbed into the plant at the leaf axil area and
retard sucker growth by inhibiting cell division
• Systemics, which do not have to come into direct contact with
suckers but are absorbed by the plant and move internally to
leaf axil areas, where they retard sucker growth by inhibiting
cell division
Leaf Number
Optimum leaf number for burley tobacco topping is generally 22 to 24 harvestable leaves. Some marketing contracts now
encourage a true tip grade (T), and topping to this number of
leaves allows the plant a better opportunity to produce a true tip.
Yield effects of topping height are also dependent on timing of
harvest. Tobacco topped to 24 leaves tends to yield slightly more
than tobacco topped to 20 leaves and is more likely to have true
tips. Too many extra leaves increases stripping labor and may
increase the incidence of houseburn in older barns that have less
space between tiers. Extra leaves beyond 24 do not necessarily
mean extra yield. Root development dictates leaf production
potential; therefore, extra leaves usually mean smaller leaves.
Topping to the right number of leaves may require a slightly later
topping time in order to produce tips. However, delays beyond
75 percent bloom will be counterproductive. A balance must
be found between extra labor required to produce those leaves,
yield per acre, and premium for tips at the market.
In addition, some products (FST-7, Leven-38, Plucker Plus
and others) are mixtures of two of these chemical types.
Four methods of application are currently being used to apply
sucker control products to tobacco: powered spray equipment,
drop lines, backpack or hand sprayers, and jugs.
Contact chemicals contain fatty alcohols as the active ingredient and form a milky-white emulsion when mixed with water
at the proper dilution. Contact chemicals are available under
many trade names, such as Off-Shoot-T, Royaltac, Royaltac-M,
Fair-Tac, Fair 85, Sucker-Plucker, Antak, and others. In university trials, all of these products have performed similarly when
used under the same conditions. Fatty alcohols burn on contact
and suckers that are shorter than one inch; sucker buds should
turn brown or black within one to two hours after application.
Fatty alcohols are rainfast at one hour after application and can
be applied 24 hours before topping or within one day after topping. Contact chemicals will control suckers for five to 10 days.
Any suckers longer than one inch will not be fully controlled
and should be removed prior to applying fatty alcohols.
Topping Dark Tobacco
Bloom Stage
Dark tobacco can generally be topped anytime between the
elongated bud stage and 50 percent bloom without causing a
significant impact on yield. Dark tobacco crops are usually more
irregular than burley crops, with wide variations in bloom stage
at the time of topping. It is not uncommon for some plants to
have open flowers while other plants are at the early bud or
even pre-bud stage. For this reason, it may be advisable to make
two toppings. Attempting to make one topping on irregular
Contacts should be applied so that the materials run down
the stalk and come into direct contact with all leaf axils. Missed
suckers are common with contacts applied to crooked or
leaning tobacco, so it is a good practice to straighten crooked
tobacco before application, if possible. The proportion of fatty
alcohol to water is critical to the effectiveness of these chemicals.
If the concentration is too weak, suckers will not be controlled,
and if it is too strong, the suckers, leaves, and leaf axil will be
burned and leaf loss could occur. A 3 to 5 percent solution is
suggested on labels for contact chemicals. General recommendations are 3 to 4 percent solution for burley tobacco and 4 to
5 percent solution for dark tobacco, with the lower concentration used in initial applications and the higher concentration
used in follow-up applications. For powered spray equipment,
use 1.5 to 2.5 gallons of contact chemical in 50 gallons of total
spray solution per acre (3 to 5% solution). For stalk-rundown
applications with backpack or hand sprayers, a 3 to 5 percent
solution is 12 to 19 fluid ounces of contact chemical per 3 gallons of total spray solution. Use of agitation is recommended,
since the fatty alcohols are lighter than water and will float on
the water in the spray tank. Fatty alcohols should be added to
the spray tank while adding water to promote dispersal. Avoid
using cold water when mixing, as these products may not totally
hand sprayers, care should be taken to prevent pooling of the
solution at the base of the stalk. Use only enough solution to
wet the stalk and suckers on each plant; 0.5 to 0.75 fluid ounce
of spray solution per plant is sufficient. Reduced rates of local
systemics can be used if tank-mixed with contacts or systemic
products. Use 3 quarts of local systemic per acre when tankmixing with contacts and 2 quarts per acre when tank-mixing
with systemic sucker control products. Butralin and Flupro may
only be applied once per season. Drexalin Plus may be applied
twice per season, but at rates of no more than 0.5 gallon per acre
per application. In North Carolina only, Prime+ may be applied
twice per season at up to 0.5 gallon per acre per application.
Maleic hydrazide (MH) is the only true systemic product
available for sucker control in tobacco. Since it is absorbed
through the leaves and moves to actively growing sucker buds, it
does not have to directly contact leaf axils to be effective. However, good soil moisture at the time of application is required
to allow adequate absorption by leaves. Similar to other types
of chemicals, MH does not control larger suckers, and these
should be removed before application. MH should be applied
as a foliar spray with powered equipment, since plant-to-plant
stalk rundown applications do not allow enough leaf contact
for adequate absorption into the plant. Absorption into the
plant is also enhanced by using nozzles that produce coarse
spray droplets as opposed to fine mist nozzles. Similar to local
systemics, MH retards the growth of small upper leaves and
plants should be topped to a leaf no smaller than 8 inches long
before MH is applied.
MH products are available in three formulations: a regular
liquid concentrate containing 1.5 pounds of MH per gallon
(Royal MH-30, Super Sucker-Stuff, Fair Plus), a higher concentrate liquid containing 2.25 pounds of MH per gallon (Royal
MH-30 Xtra, Sucker-Stuff, Fair 30), and a dry formulation (Royal
MH-30 SG, Sucker Stuff 80EG, Fair 80SP) that contains 60
percent MH by weight. Regardless of the MH formulation,
the recommended rate if used alone should be equivalent to
2.25 to 3 pounds of active ingredient (MH) per acre and 1.5 to
2.25 pounds when used in combination with a local systemic.
Product formulations and concentrations of all available MH
formulations are shown in Table 1. Refer to product labels for
specific use rates and other recommendations for each product.
Local systemics
Butralin, Prime+, Flupro, and Drexalin Plus are the local
systemic products currently available. Butralin and flumetralin
are the active ingredients in these products. All belong to a
family of chemicals called dinitroanalines and have similar use
recommendations. When properly mixed with water, Butralin
makes an orange emulsion, while flumetralin products make a
yellow emulsion.
Local systemics should be applied in a manner similar to
application of contacts, so that the chemical runs down the
stalk and contacts every leaf axil. Suckers longer than one inch
should be removed prior to application. Local systemics do not
burn suckers like contacts but rather stop sucker growth; suckers remain a pale greenish-yellow tissue for several weeks after
application. Applications of local systemics can be made with
powered spray equipment or with backpack or hand sprayers.
Local systemics generally require three hours without rain after
application to be effective.
The activity of local systemics in stopping cell division can
also cause distortion of small, upper leaves that come into
contact with the chemical. For this reason, applications of local systemics should be delayed until upper leaves are at least
8 inches long. If upper leaves are less than 8 inches long and
manual stalk rundown applications are made, direct the spray
below these smaller leaves. If a local systemic is being applied
alone, a rate of 1 gallon per acre should be used (1 gal/50 gal
total spray solution or 8 fl oz [0.5 pt] per 3-gal spray solution).
Local systemics, particularly those that contain flumetralin,
are much more persistent in the soil than other sucker control
chemicals, and severe damage can occur to subsequent crops,
particularly grasses. For this reason, care should be taken not
to use excessive amounts of these products. If manual stalk
rundown applications are made with drop lines, backpack, or
Table 1. MH product formulations currently available
MH Product
Regular concentrate
MH products
Royal MH-30
Super Sucker Stuff
Fair Plus
High concentrate MH Royal MH-30 Xtra
Sucker Stuff
Fair 30
Dry MH products
Royal MH-30 SG
Sucker Stuff 80EG
Fair 80SP
of MH (lb/G for
liquid or % for dry
Table 2. Sucker control, yield, quality grade index and MH residue in tips of burley tobacco treated with recommended and reduced rates
of MH - MSU West Farm, Murray KY, 2011
7 Days after
% Sucker Control Sucker Weight Total Burley Yield Quality Grade
MH Residue in
(lb/30 plants)
Index (1-100)
Tips (ppm)
RMH (1.5 gal/A) +
Flupro (0.5 gal/A)
OST (2 gal/A)
RMH (1 gal/A) +
Flupro (0.5 gal/A)
Abbreviations: OST = Off-Shoot-T, RMH = Royal MH 30 (1.5 lb/gal ai formulation). All treatments were applied using 60 gal/A of solution
with TG-5 nozzles in 3-nozzles/row arrangement. Burley variety was NC 7. Tobacco was harvested approximately 5 weeks after topping (4
weeks after MH application).
At Topping
OST (2 gal/A)
The regular liquid concentrate (1.5 lb active ingredient/gal) is
the most widely used form of MH in Kentucky, Tennessee, and
Virginia and is the formulation discussed in this chapter unless
otherwise noted. Regular-concentrate MH used alone can be
applied at a rate of 1.5 to 2 gallons per acre. Recommended
use rate for high-concentrate MH is 1 gallon per acre, which
is equivalent to 1.5 gallon per acre of the regular concentrate.
All MH formulations should be applied at a spray volume of 50
gallon per acre.
MH is most effective if no rain occurs within 12 hours after
application. If significant rainfall occurs within three hours after
application, reapply at the full application rate. If rainfall occurs
between three and six hours after application, reapply at one
half the full application rate on the following day. If no rainfall
occurs within six hours of application, MH does not need to
be reapplied.
There is an increased chance of leaf burning from MH if applied on bright, sunny days where the temperature is above 90В°F.
Optimum time to apply MH is on overcast or hazy days or in the
morning after dew dries on hot, clear days. MH is more active in
controlling sucker growth than other chemicals, and the most
consistently effective sucker control programs include an MH
application. In the past, it was common to use MH alone at the
highest rate allowed for burley sucker control. However, there
have been concerns in the industry about excessive MH residue
on cured leaf, and major efforts have been made to reduce or
even eliminate MH residues on burley tobacco. A mixture of
MH at a reduced rate in combination with a local systemic is
generally a better choice than MH alone.
Table 3. Impact of MH rate on cured-leaf MH residues by year and
location for selected treatments from the Regional Burley Sucker
Control Trials
Table 4. Impact of MH rate alone or in combination with a local
systemic on sucker control and yield in burley tobacco averaged
across four locations
Parts Per Million MH residue on cured
MH rate
leaves (average of all stalk positions)
lb ai/A
Year (gal/A)
2010 3.00 (2.0)2
2.25 (1.5)
1.50 (1.0)
2011 3.00 (2.0)
-2.25 (1.5)
-1.50 (1.0)
-2012 3.00 (2.0)
2.25 (1.5)
1.50 (1.0)
1 Locations for the regional sucker control trial include Greenville,
TN; Glade Spring, VA; Laurel Springs, NC; Reidsville, NC, and
Lexington, KY. Application methods differed by location but all
were targeted to deliver 50 gallons per acre of sucker control
2 3.00 lb ai/A = 2 gallons per acre regular concentrate; 2.25 lb ai/A
= 1.5 gallons per acre regular concentrate; 1.5 lb ai/A = 1 gallon
per acre regular concentrate.
Sucker Control Treatment
applied in 50 G/A as a coarse
Year spray
2011 Check Topped No Sucker
MH 3.00 lb ai/A (2.0 gal/A)
MH 2.25 lb ai/A (1.5 gal/A)
MH 2.25 lb ai/A (1.5 gal/A) +
1% FluPro (0.5 gal/A)
MH 1.50 lb ai /A (1.0 gal/A) +
1% Flupro (0.5 gal/A)
2012 Check Topped No Sucker
MH 3.00 lb ai/A (2.0 gal/A)
MH 2.25 lb ai/A (1.5 gal/A)
MH 2.25 lb ai/A (1.5 gal/A) +
1% Prime+ (0.5 gal/A)
MH 1.50 lb ai /A (1.0 gal/A) +
1% Prime+ (0.5 gal/A)
MH and Local Systemic Combinations
An effective way to reduce MH residues without compromising sucker control is to use lower rates of 1 to 1.5 gallon per
acre of regular concentrate MH in combination with 2 quarts
per acre of a local systemic applied with coarse nozzles. The
combination with 1.5 gallon per acre MH consistently controls
suckers as well as the full 2 gallon per acre MH rate and reduces
MH residues. MH residue testing on cured leaf samples has
shown that MH residues vary considerably from year to year
and from one location to another (Table 3). The MH residue
level of a particular cured leaf sample is influenced by the rate
of MH applied, the amount and intensity of rainfall received
after application, and the amount of time elapsed between application and harvest. To avoid high residue levels in cured leaf
use the lowest rate of MH that will provide acceptable sucker
control, and allow at least 3 to 4 weeks between application and
harvest. The lower 1 gallon per acre rate (regular concentrate)
will reduce residues and has often provided sucker control that
% Sucker
Leaf Yield
was equivalent to the 1.5 gallon per acre rate in research trials
(Tables 2, 3, and 4). However, the 1 gal/A rate can be less consistent and give less than desired sucker control if the material
is not properly applied or if applied during unfavorable conditions. Consistent success with reduced MH rates in combination
with a local systemic requires application to tobacco which is
straight, not under extreme drought stress, and in evenly spaced
rows, using properly calibrated equipment and nozzles properly
positioned above the row to give good stalk rundown.
a slight angle into it. Broadcast applications usually provide the
best coverage if tobacco is leaning or if row spacing is inconsistent; directed applications may be preferred if tobacco is straight
and row spacing is consistent. Even a slight misalignment of
nozzles over each tobacco row with the directed method can
result in poor sucker control on those plants.
Spraying only two or four rows at a time instead of using
the entire boom can improve alignment with the tobacco. This
is especially important if using reduced MH rates or no MH
where stalk rundown is required. If no MH is used, directed
applications with the three-nozzle system may provide better
sucker control than broadcast applications, provided tobacco
is straight and row spacing is consistent.
“Conveyor hoods” are funnel-type devices that can be attached to the spray boom over a three-nozzle arrangement
to funnel the spray solution through an opening aligned over
the row in order to concentrate the solution down the stalk of
plants. Field trials in Kentucky in recent years comparing sucker
control and MH residue with conveyor hoods and standard
three-nozzle/row applications have shown no consistent benefits of conveyor hood applications and reduced sucker control
if tobacco is crooked.
Premixed Combinations
FST-7 and Leven-38 are prepackaged mixtures of MH and
the contact n-decanol. Since both contain less MH (0.66 lb/
gal) than other MH products, the maximum application rate is
3 gallon per acre. Reduced rates can be used if these products
are tank-mixed with local systemics. They should be applied as
a coarse spray with powered spray equipment in a spray volume
of 50 gallon per acre to cover the top third to top half of the plant,
allowing the solution to run down the stalk to the bottom of
each plant. Since the active ingredients in both products tend
to separate in the container, make sure the container is well
mixed and shaken before its contents are added to the spray
tank. Constant agitation in the spray tank should be used with
all sucker control products.
Plucker Plus is a new prepackaged mixture of flumetralin
and a blend of three contact fatty alcohols that has recently
been registered for use on tobacco. Plucker Plus contains less
flumetralin (0.24 lb/gal) than other flumetralin products, so
the maximum application rate is 2.5 gallon per acre. Up to two
applications of Plucker Plus can be made per season, at 1.25 to
2.5 gallon per acre per application. Plucker Plus must be applied
in a manner to achieve stalk run down of the material.
Nozzle Selection
Nozzles that allow high output and produce coarse spray
droplets are preferred for all sucker control applications. Coarse
droplets tend to penetrate through the leaf canopy and reach
all leaf axils down the stalk better than fine droplets. Full-cone
nozzles such as TeeJet’s TG-3, TG-4, TG-5, and TG-6, or their
equivalents, are commonly used with powered spray equipment
for over-the-top applications. The three-nozzle arrangement
used for directed applications may be a TG-5 over the row and
TG-3’s on each side directed toward the row. Other combinations may also be effective. Broadcast applications can be made
with all TG-3’s or all TG-5’s. Use TG-3’s for more hilly terrain
where traveling speeds are in the 2.5 to 3.5 miles per hour range.
For flatter ground where speed can be increased to 4 to 5 miles
per hour, use TG-5’s or their equivalent to achieve the desired
spray output.
Powered Spray Equipment for High
Clearance, Over-the-Top Application
Use of powered spray equipment is the most labor-efficient
method of applying sucker control products, as this method
typically requires only one person and many acres can be covered in a day. Any type of sucker control product can be applied
through powered spray equipment, although adequate coverage to achieve the best control generally requires high-volume
spray output and straight, uniform tobacco. Coverage is the
key to success with any sucker control application, particularly
applications of contact chemicals and local systemics that must
cover every leaf axil to be effective. Thorough coverage of all leaf
axils requires a minimum of 50 gallons per acre spray volume,
and coverage may improve on many crops as spray volume is
increased to 60 or 70 gallons per acre. Pressure should be 20 to
30 psi.
Drop Line Applications
Drop line applications involve a high-clearance sprayer with
hoses for each row attached to the boom. A spray trigger is attached to the end of each hose for operation by a worker walking behind the sprayer. Drop lines are used with plant-to-plant
stalk rundown applications of contacts and local systemics.
This method provides more direct sucker contact and generally provides better control than over-the-top applications but
is labor intensive and requires a slower pace to accommodate
workers. The speed of the sprayer can only be as fast as the
slowest worker. Practice may be required for workers to become
accustomed to the appropriate rate of application, particularly
on crooked tobacco that may require directing the application
to several areas on the stalk. On tall tobacco, missed suckers can
be common in the top of the plant, but misses are less common
than with other methods.
Apply 0.5 to 0.75 fluid ounces of spray solution to each plant,
taking care to avoid applying excessive amounts that will pool
on the ground at the bottom of the plant. Product rates per acre
Nozzle Arrangement
Broadcast applications and applications directed to the
tobacco row are two types of nozzle arrangements that can be
used. Broadcast or “straight-boom” arrangements using 20-inch
nozzle spacing (for 40-inch rows) provide even coverage over
the row and the row middle. Applications directed to the tobacco row involve multiple (three or more) nozzles per row. This
method usually involves a nozzle placed directly over the row
and two nozzles placed on either side of the row and directed at
Uneven Crops
The most common cause of sucker escapes is a delay in topping until suckers have reached a size that is difficult to control.
Tobacco topped later than 50 percent bloom can have suckers
near the top of the plant that are more than one inch long. These
suckers will escape control if not removed by hand at topping,
and a second application to these suckers will also result in poor
control. This situation commonly occurs in uneven crops. One
solution is to make two toppings. However, the best solution
may depend on the degree of unevenness. Three strategies for
uneven crops are:
• If the crop is not drastically uneven, the best approach may
be to top all plants, leaving a small leaf (approximately 6 to 8
inches) at the top of plants that have not bloomed. Treat the
entire crop with 1 to 1.5 gallon per acre of MH (regular 1.5
lb/gal formulation) and 2 quarts per acre of a local systemic.
Use coarse nozzles only. To reduce labor, some producers
may elect to top only those plants with a bud or bloom and
spray the entire crop with the combination above, allowing
the spray material to chemically top those plants in the prebud stage.
• In uneven crops that will require two toppings seven days
apart, top plants that reach the elongated bud to early flower
stage and apply a contact over the top to the entire field using powered spray equipment. Apply 1 to 1.5 gallon per acre
MH (1.5 lb/gal formulation) plus 2 quarts per acre of a local
systemic after the second and final topping.
• In extremely uneven crops that will require more than two
toppings or two toppings more than seven days apart, top
plants that are ready and apply contacts every five to seven
days or at each topping using powered spray equipment
over the top, or apply a local systemic at 0.75 with a contact
or 1 gallon per acre alone as a manual plant-to-plant stalk
rundown application only to topped plants at each topping.
Flumetralin products (Prime+, Flupro, or Drexalin Plus) are
the local systemics of choice in this situation, as they generally provide slightly longer control than Butralin. If a local
systemic is used, do not retreat plants that have already been
treated at a previous topping. At the final topping, apply 1.5
gallon per acre MH (1.5 lb/gal formulation) over the top
using powered spray equipment.
are the same as with any application method, although volume
of spray solution required for drop line applications will be 20
to 40 gallon per acre depending on plant population and how
straight the crop is, significantly less than the volume used in
over-the-top applications.
Drop lines work well for local systemic applications to plants
with upper leaves smaller than 8 inches, since the applicator
can direct the spray below these smaller upper leaves. Where
applications are directed below small upper leaves, a second
sucker control application should be made to those plants
within seven days to cover leaf axils of upper leaves. Although
slow and labor intensive, drop line methods are very effective
in sucker control programs that do not include MH.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be employed
when using this application method. Refer to Appendix I (Pest
Management section) for more information.
Backpack and Hand Sprayer Applications
Backpack and hand sprayer applications are similar to drop
line application methods, in that each worker applies 0.5 to
0.75 fluid ounces of spray solution to the top of each plant to
run down the stalk. The backpack or hand sprayer consists of a
small, 2 to 3 gallon spray tank and a wand attachment that can
be fitted with a coarse spray nozzle. This method may have an
advantage over the drop line method in that each worker is
independent of others and speed is not dictated by the slowest worker. Small-acreage growers using plant-to-plant stalk
rundown applications prefer this method.
Refer to Appendix I in the Pest Management section for PPE
Jug Applications
Jug applications involve adding the chemical to a gallon jug
with water and pouring 0.5 to 0.75 fluid ounces of solution down
the stalk of each plant. One gallon of spray solution should treat
170 to 256 plants. Although the jug method is the simplest of
all methods, it is more difficult to apply consistent amounts to
each plant. Some small-acreage growers may still prefer the
jug method. See Table 6 for conversion of product rates from
gallons of product per 50 gallons of spray solution to ounces of
product per gallon of spray solution.
Refer to Appendix I in the Pest Management section for PPE
Strategies for MH-free Burley Tobacco
Certain buying companies have offered price incentives in
the past for burley tobacco that is not treated with MH. These
incentives may be offered again, and some companies may only
accept MH-free burley tobacco in the future. Although burley
tobacco can be grown without MH, labor requirements may be
greater and sucker control may be reduced in programs that do
not include MH.
If sucker control is adequate, some improvement in yield
and cured leaf color can be seen in MH-free crops. Crops that
have not received MH may also stay in the field longer before
harvest. Alternative management and application techniques
may be required with MH-free tobacco. The most consistent
method for producing MH-free tobacco is to use contacts
and local systemics in plant-to-plant stalk rundown applications with drop lines or backpack/hand sprayers. As discussed
Sucker Control Strategies for Burley Tobacco
Uniform Crops
For most crops that are uniform and can be topped one time,
use 1 to 1.5 gallon per acre MH (regular 1.5 lb/gal formulation)
with 2 quart per acre of a local systemic as an over-the-top application with powered spray equipment. Top tobacco at 10
to 25 percent bloom, and remove all suckers longer than one
inch. Spray applications can be made within one day before or
after topping. If upper leaves will be less than eight inches long
at topping, apply a contact at topping and then follow with 1 to
1.5 gallon per acre MH (regular 1.5 lb/gal formulation) plus 2
quarts per acre of a local systemic seven days later. Research has
demonstrated that sucker control from contact applications can
be more effective when applications begin just before topping.
previously, this method requires much more labor and time,
and multiple applications are usually needed. Good yields
and sucker control can be achieved in MH-free tobacco using
over-the-top applications with powered spray equipment, but
achieving adequate coverage on all leaf axils can be difficult. For
the best chance of success, use multiple contact applications (at
least two) every seven days beginning before topping, followed
by a single local systemic application at 1 gallon per acre either
alone or preferably tank-mixed with a contact. Do not allow
suckers to grow longer than one inch before treating.
Top the rest of the crop within seven days if possible and apply
either a tank-mix of a contact at 4 to 5 percent solution (2 to 2.5
gal/50 gal total solution) with a local systemic at 3 quarts per
50 gallons or a local systemic alone at 1 gallon per 50 gallons.
The contact/local systemic tank-mix allows a slightly lower rate
of the local systemic to be used and may also increase sucker
control compared to applying the local systemic alone at the
full use rate. If more than two toppings are required, plan on
applying a contact every seven days and follow with a local
systemic or contact/local systemic tank-mix application at the
final topping. If a local systemic is applied to plants that have
not been topped nor have upper leaves less than eight inches
long, direct the application below these smaller leaves. Another
strategy is to apply a local systemic at 1 gallon per acre alone
or at 0.75 gallon per acre as a tank mix with a contact at each
topping. With this strategy, treat only plants that have just been
topped and do not retreat plants at later toppings.
Sucker Control Strategies for Dark Tobacco
Although sucker control strategies for dark tobacco are
similar to those for burley, achieving effective sucker control
is usually more difficult in dark tobacco. Sucker growth after
topping is generally more vigorous than in burley, and ground
suckers are more common. Dark tobacco is much more prone
to blowing over and becoming crooked than burley. Also, dark
tobacco typically stays in the field for a longer period between
topping and harvest, requiring extended sucker control.
The prostrate structure and leaf arrangement of dark tobacco
is also not as conducive to achieving good coverage on all leaf
axils. Some buyers of dark tobacco have discouraged the use of
MH in the past except in situations of blow-over where stalk
rundown is nearly impossible. MH used at topping or at high
rates can cause severe upper leaf discoloration and distortion.
For these reasons, plant-to-plant stalk rundown applications of
contacts and local systemics with drop lines or backpack/hand
sprayers are much more common in dark tobacco. Research
has demonstrated that contact applications can be more effective when applications begin just before topping. As discussed
previously, dark tobacco crops are rarely uniform enough to
allow one topping over the entire field.
Over-the-Top Applications with Powered Spray Equipment
Although plant-to-plant stalk rundown applications are
more common in dark tobacco, success can be achieved with
over-the-top applications. Coverage on all leaf axils will be more
difficult on dark tobacco, and slightly higher spray volumes can
improve coverage. Spray volumes of 60 to 70 gallon per acre are
recommended for contact and local systemic applications.
Dark tobacco that is straight is rare, and crooked tobacco
is usually the cause of missed suckers with over-the-top or
plant-to-plant applications. If tobacco leans due to wind, try to
straighten the tobacco before it grows crooked if possible, as this
will improve coverage in over-the-top applications. If tobacco is
relatively straight, directed applications with three nozzles per
row will provide better coverage than broadcast, straight-boom
applications. A good strategy for over-the-top applications is to
apply a contact as a 4 percent solution at the first topping and
again seven days later. Follow with a local systemic at 1 gallon
per acre or contact/local systemic tank-mix as described previously. Since more suckers will escape control with over-the-top
applications to dark tobacco, including an MH application is
recommended (Table 5).
Plant-to-Plant Stalk Rundown Applications
A typical sucker control strategy for dark tobacco is to top
plants that are ready (elongated bud to early bloom) and apply
a contact at 4 percent solution (2 gal/50 gal total solution) to
the entire field as a plant-to-plant stalk rundown application.
Table 5. Sucker control and yield from selected MH and MH-free spray programs in Dark
Tobacco, MSU West Farm, Murray KY, 2013
Total Dark7 Days after
% Sucker
Fired Yield
2nd Topping
OST (2 gal/A) +
Butralin (0.75 gal/A)
RMH (1 gal/A) +
Butralin (0.75 gal/A)
RMH (1.25 gal/A) +
Butralin (0.5 gal/A)
RMH (1.5 gal/A)
Abbreviations: OST = Off-Shoot-T, RMH = Royal MH 30 (1.5 lb/gal ai formulation). All
treatments were applied using 60 gal/A of solution with TG-5 nozzles in 3-nozzles/row
arrangement. Dark variety was PD7309LC.
At 1st
At 2nd (Final)
OST (2 gal/A) OST (2.5 gal/A)
Table 6. Conversion chart for gallons
product per 50 gallon spray solution
to fluid ounces product per gallon
Gallons product
per 50 gal/A
Fluid Ounces
product per 1
gallon solution
Use of MH in Dark Tobacco
Although MH use in dark tobacco has been discouraged in
the past, buying companies have become more lenient in its use
in recent years. The key to avoiding discoloration and distortion
of upper leaves is to not apply MH at topping as is commonly
done in burley. Allow at least five to seven days after the final
topping before applying MH. Application rate is also important.
Five to 6 quarts per acre (1.25 to 1.5 gal/A of the regular 1.5 lb/
gal formulation) is recommended. Rates lower than 5 quarts per
acre will provide marginal sucker control, and rates higher than
6 quarts per acre may cause some upper leaf discoloration, even
when applied seven days after final topping. Recommended MH
programs for over-the-top applications to dark tobacco are to
apply a contact at the first topping and every five to seven days
through the last topping. Five to seven days after the final topping, apply 5 to 6 quarts per acre regular concentrate MH alone
or tank-mixed with 2 quarts per acre of a local systemic (Table
5). Tank-mixing of MH with a local systemic is recommended
for improved and extended sucker control. If one topping can
be made, apply a contact and follow with MH or MH/local
systemic tank-mix five to seven days later. Be sure to top down
to at least an eight-inch leaf.
Harvest Management for Burley and Dark Tobacco
Andy Bailey and Bob Pearce
ne of the most important management decisions in producing high-quality burley or dark tobacco is deciding when to
cut. Maturity of the crop should be the primary consideration,
although weather conditions and the availability of labor are
also factors. Tobacco cut at maturity but not allowed to become
overripe will be easier to cure and have better cured leaf quality
than immature or over-mature tobacco. In general, burley or
dark air-cured tobacco harvested by mid-September will have
the best opportunity for good air-curing conditions in most
years. Air-cured tobacco harvested later, particularly in October,
will experience cooler temperatures, lower relative humidity,
and generally less-ideal curing conditions in most years. Dark
fire-cured tobacco can be harvested through October if needed
without reducing quality as outside weather conditions have
less of an effect on curing conditions. Frost damage to tobacco
is always a concern when harvest extends past mid-October. A
worst-case scenario is when frost occurs on freshly harvested
tobacco. If frost occurs on tobacco before harvest, it is advisable to allow tobacco to stand for at least two days following
the frost. Often the first frost is light and does not occur on two
consecutive nights.
are extremely small. Tobacco can then be left on the standing
stick in the field to wilt before being picked up for housing.
Tobacco that is adequately field wilted will be lighter and easier
to handle and house (up to 20% less fresh weight), and will incur
less leaf loss and bruising. Tobacco that sunburns or has light
frost damage may require a few (three to four) days of sunlight
to remove chlorophyll staining. It is especially important not
to let harvested tobacco get excessively wet and muddy in the
field, and it should not be left standing in the field longer than
four days, even if weather conditions are good.
Burley tobacco can be loaded onto flatbed wagons or scaffold wagons for transport from the field. Flatbed wagons can
be used if tobacco will be housed immediately. Tobacco loaded
onto scaffold wagons can remain on the wagon for additional
wilting prior to housing if needed. While loading, tobacco can
be regulated on sticks so that plants are spaced equally apart
and leaves hang straight down the stalk. Some producers prefer
to regulate tobacco when housing.
Good housing practices are essential for high-quality cured
tobacco. Good cured leaf can be obtained in conventional curing barns or in outdoor curing structures if proper management
is used. In conventional curing barns, all available space should
be uniformly filled, as air does not circulate well through tobacco
in partially filled barns. Sticks should be spaced at least six inches
apart on the tier rail in conventional barns to allow air movement between sticks. Ensure that plants are spaced equally on
sticks and leaves are shaken out to hang down the stalk if that
was not done at loading in the field. Fill each bent in the barn
completely from top to bottom. If possible, fill the entire barn
in the same time period, as greener tobacco does not cure as
well when hung with partially cured tobacco. Tip leaves should
hang between sticks of lower tiers and not overlap.
Burley tobacco can usually be hung at higher densities in
open-sided, low-profile outdoor curing structures without
increased risks of houseburn or barn rot. Burley tobacco hung
on these structures can be spaced as close as four inches apart.
Since natural airflow is greater in these structures than in conventional barns, closer stick spacing helps to prevent the tobacco
from drying too fast and setting undesirable colors in the cured
Burley Tobacco
Burley tobacco should be allowed to ripen until nearly all of
the upper leaves show a distinct yellow-green color. Stalks and
main leaf stems will lose much of their original greenish color
and take on a cream-to-white appearance. This change in color
usually occurs between three and five weeks after topping,
depending on the variety and environmental conditions. Many
growers hesitate to allow upper leaves to ripen for fear of losing
lower leaves. However, added growth of upper leaves usually
more than compensates for any loss of lower leaves. Under good
growing conditions, burley tobacco crops will continue to add
weight for the first four to five weeks after topping. Harvesting
at six weeks or more after topping usually does not result in
increased yields and often leads to decreased leaf quality.
If possible, try to schedule burley harvest when at least a
few days of fair weather are expected. Burley tobacco can be
cut and put on sticks (“speared” or “spiked”) in the same operation. Do not put more than six plants on a stick unless plants
Dark Tobacco
in groups of six plants to make spiking easier and temporarily
reduce the risk of sunburn. No more than six plants should be
put on a stick, and five plants per stick works better for larger
tobacco. Whether the tobacco is spiked from piles or directly
from the ground, it should not be allowed to stay in the field
for more than a few hours before being picked up and loaded.
Recently, some growers have used burlap sheets placed over
piles of spiked tobacco before picking up to increase wilting
and reduce the risk of sunburn. When loading, space plants
equally on sticks and shake leaves so that they hang straight
down the stalk.
Scaffold wagons are the preferred means of loading and
transporting dark tobacco. Scaffolded tobacco is less likely to
sunburn and can remain on the wagons for several days of additional wilting before housing if wagons are placed in shade
or are covered with shade cloth.
Dark tobacco housed in newer barns with wider vertical
tier spacing should have a stick spacing of at least eight to nine
inches. In older barns with narrow tier spacing, place sticks at
least 12 inches apart. Narrow tier spacing in older barns may
only accommodate tobacco topped to 12 or 14 leaves, whereas
wider tier spacing in newer barns will accommodate tobacco
topped to the current market standard of 16 to 18 leaves. Use
alternating placement on tier rails so that tobacco does not
overlap tobacco on lower tiers, or hang tobacco only on every
other tier if barn space allows.
For dark fire-cured and dark air-cured tobacco, fill the entire
barn in the same time period, as tobacco will not cure as well
when housed at different stages. Fill each bent of the barn from
top to bottom, ensuring that plants are spaced evenly on sticks
and leaves hang straight down the stalk. Due to increased risk
of weather damage, the use of outdoor curing structures for
dark air-cured tobacco is not currently recommended.
Similar to burley tobacco, dark tobacco that is allowed to
ripen before harvest will cure much more easily and with a
better color. Dark tobacco does not show distinctive yellowness in the field at maturity like burley and is therefore more
difficult to estimate ripeness. Dark tobacco is ready for harvest
when leaves begin to show a very faint spotty yellow cast. At
this stage, the upper leaves will be thick and oily and will crack
readily when doubled between the fingers. Depending on
variety and environmental conditions, this condition usually
occurs between five and seven weeks after topping. Exceptions
are TN D950 and PD 7305LC, two early-maturing varieties
that may be ready for harvest between four and five weeks
after topping. TR Madole, VA 309, and KT D6LC (which is a
hybrid of KT D4LC and TN D950) may also show rapid maturity and leaf breakdown as early as five weeks after topping
when transplanted in May.
Dark tobacco that is ripe when harvested will have brittle
leaves that break and bruise easily. For this reason, dark tobacco
should not be cut and put on sticks in the same operation, as
is typically done with burley. Due to its more prostrate leaf
structure, dark tobacco should be carefully cut, with caution
taken not to break lower leaves, and allowed to wilt in place
or “fall” before being put on sticks. Depending on temperature
and sunlight intensity, this wilting period may take anywhere
from 30 minutes to several hours. Tobacco cut late in the day
can be left to wilt overnight if there is no chance of rain that
will leave the tobacco excessively wet or muddy. Once tobacco
is flexible enough to be put on sticks without breaking leaves,
it should be spiked and picked up as soon as possible. Dark
tobacco is very susceptible to sunburn. Caution should be
taken to not cut more tobacco than can be spiked and loaded
in a day. Many growers may pile the tobacco after initial wilting
Facilities and Curing
John Wilhoit, Andy Bailey, and Larry Swetnam
Conventional Barn Renovation and Remodeling
of people still hand tobacco from the driveway across to the
sheds and up into the barn, which adds a worker or two and
costly labor hours.
• Consider fans where natural ventilation is inadequate.
Supplemental fan circulation and/or ventilation can help
wilt big, green tobacco; aid curing of tightly housed tobacco
in humid weather; and aid air movement in barns with poor
ventilation. See Using Fans in Conventional Burley Barns
(AEN-69) on the selection, installation, and use of fans in
tobacco barns.
• Many producers have found that in older barns where tiers
are only 3 to 3.5 feet apart vertically better curing results
when tobacco is housed on every other tier rail. This practice
eliminates overlapping and produces better air movement.
Sticks can usually be placed closer together when the plants
do not overlap, thus compensating in barn capacity for the
omitted tiers. The tier rails should not be overloaded; the tiers
may break, and air movement through the tobacco may be
Curing facilities continue to be a limiting factor for producers
wanting to expand their production. With the high cost of new
barns, the renovation and remodeling of existing barns can be
an economic advantage. Many curing barns remain that are
generally in good structural condition. With some remodeling,
they can often be improved to make housing easier and/or to
aid the curing process. Following are a few possibilities.
• Good burley curing requires lots of natural air. Be sure
ventilator doors or equivalent openings equal one-fourth
to one-third of the barn side wall area and are positioned
to permit natural air to enter and go through the hanging
tobacco. Keep the vent doors in good repair so they can be
opened and closed as required to regulate ventilation and
manage the cure. Whenever possible, remove such obstructions as trees, bushes, and hay stacked in attached sheds that
block prevailing winds.
• Install full-width driveway doors to accommodate wagon
access and increase housing efficiency. An amazing number
• Structurally sound conventional barns can be modified for
two- or three-tier, air-cure housing; cable hoist; or portable
frame housing for labor-saving benefits. Specific details of
these procedures are contained in other publications.
• The plastic cover and the tobacco are subject to increased
damage from strong winds and other weather.
• The space requirements for outside field curing structures
are substantial, generally about one-quarter acre (including
space for maneuvering) for every 1 acre of curing capacity.
• Maintenance issues are associated with outside field curing
structures (mowing, etc.).
Considerations for What Type of Tobacco
Barn or Curing Facility You Should Build
There are several options for new tobacco barn construction
as well as field curing structures. Plan to build the most suitable facility for present and future production methods. With
labor becoming more scarce and costly, laborsaving features
are a must. Rising material and construction costs continue
to increase the initial investment costs. A barn is the largest
single investment required in the normal tobacco (burley or
dark) production system. Trends toward mechanization affect
whether a facility can be modified, will soon become obsolete,
or is needed at all. Partially enclosed barns and plastic-covered
field curing structures are alternatives for lower cost tobacco
housing and curing. Field curing structures especially minimize
both initial investment costs and hanging labor requirements,
but they may require more management for proper curing and
are more susceptible to tobacco damage in strong winds.
Producers considering a new facility should certainly not
favor the historic tall, labor-intensive barns from the past era of
plentiful, low-cost labor and inexpensive homegrown lumber.
Likewise, builders should not contend that they can only build
barns of that type.
Portable curing structures can help minimize the distance
from the tobacco field to the curing structure, encouraging
better rotation practices. But they have considerably higher
costs, require a lot of extra effort to move and set up, have high
space requirements for storing during the off season, and can
be more difficult to secure the plastic cover to.
Designs and Plans
More than three dozen designs and plans and various publications related to curing facilities are currently available on the
UK Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering website at http:// General groupings include:
• Three-tier and four-tier air-cure, 32, 40, or 48 feet wide, postpier or pole-type construction, wood, or metal siding
• Two- or three-tier forced-air, 32 or 40 feet wide, wood or
metal siding, pole-type construction
• Open-interior air-cure barn with portable curing frames
handled by tractor forklift
• Two-tier, partially enclosed air-cure barn, pole-type construction
• Cable-hoist mechanical housing system for new or modified
air-cure barns
• Thirty-foot-wide machine shed with removable tier rails for
small air-cure barn, pole-type construction
• One-tier, plastic-covered field curing structures with manual
or mechanized housing
• Pallet rack components used as one-tier, plastic-covered field
curing structures
• Stripping rooms attached to barns or free-standing, especially layouts for the new big-bale operations
Barns (fixed-roof structures)
When planning new fixed-roof curing facilities, producers
should consider these options:
• Basic three- or four-tier barn designs, two-tier economy
designs, or one-tier field structures in which tobacco housing
can be accomplished with a smaller crew and less total labor
• Alternative designs that use portable frames or cable-hoist
mechanical handling and housing, which can save over half
of the housing labor
• Structures that permit other possible farm uses during the
non-curing season, such as machinery and supply storage
• Future modifications for different tobacco housing and
curing methods or other farm enterprises that may change
significantly in the future
Facility Design and Location
A barn should be located in an open, well-drained area with
the broad side facing the direction of the prevailing wind to
provide the best cross ventilation. The best location is on a high
point on the farmstead. Width is the most important dimension affecting ventilation, since it determines the distance the
air must move as it passes through the facility and the amount
of tobacco the air must pass through. Traditionally, barns have
been 32, 40, or 48 feet wide and as long as needed to hold the
desired amount of tobacco. However, more and more very large,
high capacity curing barns have been built in recent years for
large tobacco operations. For these barns, which may be 80 feet
wide, it is especially important that all possible measures be
taken to maximize cross ventilation, as it can be difficult to get
sufficient air movement for proper curing in the center of such
large barns. In particular, it is important that other tobacco barns
or farm structures that could block the wind not be located close
to these large barns.
Regardless of the measures taken to maximize cross ventilation, houseburn may still be a problem in the central sections
Outside Field Curing Structures
(plastic-covered structures)
Outside curing structures can be constructed at a much
lower cost (for the same curing capacity) than barns, so they
should be given serious consideration if curing capacity expansion is needed. They require considerably less labor for hanging
because they are only one tier high, and they are safer because
workers do not have to climb to multiple tier heights. Curing
quality has generally been found to be as good or better in
outside curing structures as in traditional barns, and tobacco
in outside curing structures can be in case more readily than
tobacco in traditional barns. However, there are other challenges
with using outside field curing structures.
• Additional labor and expense related to covering the structures with plastic negate some of the advantage in labor
efficiency over traditional barns.
Air-Curing Burley Tobacco
of such large barns. If that is the case, consider adding fans to
supplement natural ventilation. Fans can be used in barns to
improve circulation and fresh air exchange through the tobacco
for improved curing, although not operating fans during drier
weather can reduce air exchange and maintain better humidity
For fire-curing barns, a major consideration on overall barn
size is the size of the labor crew and how quickly they can harvest and house the tobacco to fill the barn. Ideally, a fire-curing
barn should be filled within a two-day period to allow yellowing
to proceed at approximately the same rate and to allow subsequent firing practices to be the same throughout the entire barn.
For this reason, many fire-curing barns hold no more than 3 to
4 acres even on larger operations.
Lumber of sound quality and proper strength should be used
for construction as shown in typical plans. For labor saving in
housing, the sheds should have driveway doors so transport
vehicles can pass under the tier rails for efficient handing of
tobacco up into the tiers. In air-curing barns, ventilator openings should have doors or panels that open, generally vertical
in orientation and equivalent in area to at least one-fourth to
one-third of the side wall area. Some air-curing barns are being
built with metal siding without adequate side wall ventilation.
Inadequate ventilation will result in houseburn during humid
weather or with tightly spaced tobacco. Air-cured tobacco
should never be housed and cured in a fire-curing barn.
Lower cost plastic-covered field structures can use untreated
wood or preservative-treated wood, which will last longer. Various wooden and wire strung designs exist for stick harvested
or notched plant hanging and curing. Careless and haphazard
construction, including failure to adequately anchor high tensile
wire, can result in failure of these field structures when fully
loaded with harvested tobacco, so it is important to build them
strong. Contrary to barns, field structures should be located in
more protected areas, as they tend to have ample air movement
through the tobacco but are subject to damage from strong
winds. Locate field structures beside barns or downwind from
fencerows or tree lines to help protect them from the wind.
One of the most important functions of any tobacco-curing
facility is to provide an environment for proper tobacco curing and management. The process of air-curing burley and
dark tobacco changes the tobacco leaf ’s chemical and physical
properties from the green and yellowish stages to tan and brown
aromatic leaf for processing. Most of the changes occur during
the first four weeks of curing (approximately two weeks for yellowing, two weeks for browning) and alter many compounds
in the green leaf.
Cured leaf quality of air-cured tobacco is heavily influenced
by the weather conditions during the curing season. Quality
is influenced by moisture and temperature conditions inside
the facility during the curing period. For several decades, the
best conditions for curing burley have been cited from Jeffrey
(1940) as a daily temperature range from 60 to 90В°F and a daily
relative humidity average of 65 to 70 percent. The study was
based on airflow of 15 feet per minute (¹⁄₆ mph velocity) through
the tobacco in the test chambers. These conditions were for
tobacco grown and cured in the 1940s, which was a very thin,
buff-colored leaf referred to as “white burley.” The changes in
varieties, fertility, and cultural practices of the last couple of
decades as well as buyer preferences have resulted in a darker
brown to red, thicker leaf now being favored. Recent barn and
chamber studies have indicated that steady or daily average
relative humidity in the 72 to 75 percent range produces the
quality of tobacco leaves currently desired by the industry, thus
a higher daily average humidity than that of the historic study.
During late August through September, the recommended
tobacco air-curing season in Kentucky, the outdoor temperature
seldom goes above 90В°F or below 60В°F for any great length of
time. Relative humidity can dwell near 100 percent during heavy
dew or foggy nights and briefly may drop below 40 to 50 percent
in the heat of the day, thus averaging around 70 to 75 percent.
The cooler October temperatures can often go below 60В°F for
an entire day and/or several consecutive evening periods, with
humidity ranging from 25 to 30 percent in daytime to not over
70 to 80 percent in evening hours, resulting in daily averages
of 45 to 55 percent. Extensive curing studies by Walton, et al.
(1971, 1973) on the effect of several combinations of low and
high temperatures and relative humidity on the quality of burley
can be summarized as follows:
• Low temperatures result in green leaf, regardless of the
relative humidity and airflow. The chemical conversions are
too slow because of the low temperature. The drying rate
determines the degree of green cast in the leaf; the higher
the drying rate, the greener the cured leaf.
• Low humidity and moderate temperature results in a greenish or mottled leaf.
• Low humidity and high temperature (75°F and above) cause
“piebald” (yellowish) leaf.
• High humidity and moderate-to-high temperatures for extended periods is houseburning weather. Houseburn results
in a dark leaf with excessive loss in dry weight. The excessive
weight loss is primarily caused by the action of microorganisms that cause soft rot.
Costs and Labor Efficiency
Curing facility initial costs can range from $900 to $1,500 per
acre of capacity for simple field curing structures with plastic
covers to $6,000 to $10,000 or more per acre of capacity for
conventional air- or fire-curing barns. Field curing structures
will also have additional costs each year for the plastic covers,
approximately $150 per acre. Useful life of these structures can
vary from seven to 10 years for low-cost field structures to 40 or
more years for well-built barns. Labor requirements for hanging
tobacco in these facilities (not including harvesting and hauling)
can vary from approximately 12 worker-hr/A of capacity for the
single-tier height field structures up to 30 to 35 worker-hr/A for
the tall, traditional barns (hanging labor requirements increase
with barn height).
The amortized value of construction cost and labor for these
facilities over their useful life is estimated at approximately 8 to
12 cents per pound of cured burley tobacco per year. The annual
cost per pound can be higher due to interest paid if a short-term
construction loan is necessary.
Temperature determines the undesirable colors that prevail
in the cured leaf during improper curing; however, the relative humidity (if airflow is adequate) determines the degree of
damage incurred. Walton et al. (1973) showed that the greater
the departure from the optimum relative humidity range, the
greater the damage to the quality of the tobacco.
Control of the curing process is affected mainly by spacing of the tobacco in the curing facility and management of
the drying rate. Spacing can vary from 5 to 6 inches between
plants or sticks for one- and two-tier facilities to 7 to 10 inches
for three- to five-tier barns with tobacco overlapping on closetier rails. The drying rate is controlled primarily by operating
the ventilators, plastic covering, or other air control means to
regulate the ventilation rates.
The conditions inside the barn generally follow the conditions outside, depending on the quantity of air movement and
buffering action of the tobacco mass. The average temperature
inside the barn will be slightly lower than outside because of
evaporative cooling during the drying stage. The average relative humidity inside will be higher than outside under most
conditions of adequate ventilation. A good way to determine
the conditions inside the barn and that of the tobacco is to purchase a couple of commercial digital temperature and humidity
instruments for $25 to $39 each. Hang these up in the tobacco
mass (but not directly against a moist leaf ) to sense and record
the environmental conditions. These instruments store maximum and minimum data readings that can be viewed to see
the past cycle of conditions and reset as desired. The accuracy
of relative humidity measurement is generally plus or minus 3
percent, which is reasonable for the price.
A new electronic, interactive tobacco curing advisory tool
has been developed in a collaborative effort by the Department
of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering and the Kentucky
Agriculture Weather Center at the University of Kentucky. The
curing advisory uses real-time data from the Kentucky Mesonet
system, now in 65 counties, to produce a summary of average
weather conditions (temperature, relative humidity, and wind
conditions) for the previous 48 hours, and forecasts conditions
for the coming 24 hours. Growers select their county, and the
advisory summarizes weather conditions for the specific location and advises opening and closing ventilators, and in extreme
conditions, adding supplemental ventilation or moisture. The
advisory, which is available during the curing season from
mid-July through the end of October, can be accessed at http://
One-tier field curing structures with plastic covers normally
have plentiful air movement through the tobacco, thus curing
as well as the natural weather allows. Such structures should be
placed downwind from fencerows or similar wooded areas to
give protection from strong winds that can damage the plastic
covering and tobacco. Plastic or other covering should be applied over the hanging tobacco before a significant rainfall and
maintained throughout the cure for protection from rain and
wind damage.
tobacco, as use of one-tier field curing structures are not currently recommended due to increased potential for weather
and wind damage. Barns used for dark air-cured tobacco are
usually somewhat less open than many older barns used for
burley but still have workable ventilators to allow for adequate
air flow. Under warm conditions (mean daytime temperatures
above 80В°F and mean nighttime temperatures above 60В°F), barn
doors and ventilators should be open during the early stages of
curing to promote airflow through the tobacco. If warm, moist
weather conditions prevail after housing, it may be beneficial
to use some type of heat to aid the curing process. Heat may
also be necessary following late harvests if cool (mean daytime
temperatures below 65В°F), dry conditions persist after housing.
Heat sources that can be used include gas burners, coke stoves,
or even small wood fires (“open-firing”) using dry wood that produces little smoke such as sycamore. For dark air-cured tobacco,
it is extremely important that these heat sources be virtually
smoke-free so as not to leave any, or very little, smoke residue
on the leaves. Barn temperatures during heating should be kept
low (not exceeding 90В°F), as too much heat can cause excessive
drying (Bailey 2006a). Growers should be aware that the use of
heat in dark air-cured tobacco can be of benefit in the situations
described above, but heat in dark air-curing is not a necessity.
Dark air-cured tobacco harvested by mid-September in western
Kentucky is normally exposed to the best curing conditions
and should not require the use of heat. Dark air-cured growers
should refer to contract specifications and recommendations
and comply if there are any restrictions against the use of heat
during curing.
Dark Fire-Cured Tobacco
The fire-curing process for dark tobacco can be broken down
into four phases:
• Color setting
Although fire-curing is still more art than science, with many
slight variations in practices, the following are some basic, general guidelines for these phases:
Yellowing. The degree of yellowing that occurs in the tobacco
before fires are started will affect the color of the cured leaf. Tobacco should be allowed to yellow as much as possible without
heat, and ventilators should be managed carefully to prevent
houseburn and sweating. Firing should begin when yellowing
is nearly complete (yellow spots appear or the majority of the
leaf lamina has reached a solid yellow color). This condition
usually occurs between five and eight days after housing. Initial
fires should be around 100В°F. Fires that are too hot too soon will
cause “bluing” of the tobacco, which results in a crude, green
color that will remain after curing is completed. Top ventilators
are usually left open during this phase of curing, and fires are
mostly smoke with low heat.
Color Setting. When yellowing is complete and the entire
leaf lamina is a solid yellow color with little or no brown color,
temperatures are increased with additional fires to set leaf
color. Ventilators are usually closed, and temperatures should
be kept between 100В°F and 115В°F. These conditions should be
Dark Air-Cured Tobacco
Dark air-cured tobacco is cured essentially the same as burley,
but because of the heavier body of dark tobacco, it is more prone
to sweat, houseburn, and mold. Barns are used for dark air-cured
sawdust during later firings to help fires burn more slowly with
increased smoke volume (Bailey 2006b).
Good quality sawdust is the most important material used
in fire curing. The sawdust over the slabs acts as a damper to
allow for a smoldering fire with little or no open flame. Excessive open flames are more of a fire hazard to the barn and also
result in excessive temperatures and increased levels of NOx
gases that may contribute to increased TSNA formation (see
TSNA chapter).
The dark-fired tobacco industry is dependent on the sawmill
industry to provide an adequate supply of slabs and sawdust for
fire-curing. This dependence has resulted in increased price for
these firing materials in years when the sawmill industry is slow,
causing shortages of these materials, particularly sawdust. The
coarse sawdust from circular sawmilling is much preferred for
use in fire-curing. In recent years, growers have been forced to
use a finer sawdust produced from band saws. Band sawdust
may also have much less uniform particle size than the coarser
circular sawdust. The finer band saw dust also has somewhat
different burning qualities than the coarser circular sawdust. It
has been observed that the finer band sawdust may tend to cake
more, allowing the fire to tunnel under the sawdust, preventing
some of the dampening effect of the sawdust on the slabs and
increasing temperature and open flame in fire-curing barns. It
has also been observed that the finer band saw dust may also
have a tendency to allow burning on top of the sawdust. The
finer band saw dust can also be more difficult to wet prior to use
in fire-curing barns, and when wetted over the top of rows in the
barn it only contributes to more caking and more tunneling of
the fire underneath the sawdust. Wetting piles of band sawdust
for one to two days prior to loading in the barn is recommended.
Growers using the finer band saw dust should use extra caution
when firing, and those supplying sawdust to growers should be
aware that circular sawdust is much preferred.
maintained until the leaf shows a solid brown color. Depending
on tightness of the barn and weather conditions, color setting
may be done with one firing or may take two successive firings
over a seven- to 14-day period. Ventilators should be opened
completely between firings to allow the tobacco to obtain some
order before refiring. When the tobacco has a clear, solid brown
face and the stems are dried and browned one-half to two-thirds
up the leaf, it is time to complete drying.
Drying. Tobacco is brought in order, ventilators opened, and
heat increased until the midribs are completely dried down
and darkened. Heat during the drying phase should not exceed
130В°F. When drying is complete, very little or no green pigment should be left in the stalks; tobacco should shatter when
touched, and no puffiness or “fat stems” should be present in
the leaf midrib near the stalk. Puffy stems that remain after the
drying phase will not easily be dried down during the finishing
Finishing. After the midribs and stalks are dried and darkened,
temperatures are reduced to no more than 120В°F, and smoke
volume is maximized to add finish to the leaf surface. The finishing phase usually requires one to two slow firings over a 10- to
14-day period but may vary depending on the amount of finish
desired by the buyer. Tobacco takes finish much better when in
order, so ventilators should be opened for several nights prior
to finishing to allow moisture to enter the barn. Finishing fires
should contain minimal slabs and heavy sawdust to maximize
smoke with little or no ventilation. The sawdust, barn floor, and
walls may be dampened to produce a moist smoke that will help
keep the tobacco in order longer to increase finish.
Firing Materials and Methods
Hardwood slabs and sawdust are the traditional firing materials used for dark fire-cured tobacco. Seasoned hardwood
materials are preferable, since they tend to burn more slowly
and evenly than softer types of wood. Evergreen wood species
should be avoided, as they contain resins that can impart offflavor and aroma to the cured tobacco. Materials such as sulfur
or salt should not be used in the yellowing or drying phases, and
other materials, such as molasses or brown sugar, should not be
used during the finishing phase in an attempt to increase finish
in the cured leaf. Where these materials are used, the result may
be tobacco that is excessively sticky and difficult to handle or
not usable by the industry because of off-flavor.
Initial fires during yellowing and color-setting phases usually consist of slabs being placed in narrow rows on the floor
of the barn and covered completely with sawdust, except for a
small opening exposing slabs on alternating ends of each row
where fires are started. Slabs should be overlapped so that fires
will burn continuously to the end of each row. Later firings
during the drying phase require increased heat, and slabs may
be stacked higher and in wider rows or beds or placed solid
throughout the floor of the barn with sawdust covering the slabs.
Fires may be started on one or both ends of rows. Fires
started on one end of a row will burn slower, whereas fires
started on both ends will burn faster and hotter. Finishing fires
usually have minimal slabs placed either in rows or solid with
increased amounts of sawdust to produce maximum smoke
volume. Hardwood chips may also be used in combination with
Double-Crop Curing Dark-Fired Tobacco
Double-crop curing refers to curing two crops of dark-fired
tobacco in the same barn and season. Double-crop curing
requires additional planning and management for both the
field and curing barn compared to conventional single crop
curing. It generally takes six to seven weeks to fire-cure a crop
of dark tobacco by conventional means. This time frame can
still be applied to second cures in double-crop curing, but the
first cure needs to be fired more aggressively so that it can be
taken down in no more than five weeks. The two cures need
to be harvested about five weeks apart, so they should also
be transplanted about five weeks apart. First cures should be
transplanted as soon as possible, ideally May 1 to 15. Second
cures should be transplanted June 5 to 20. If this time frame
is followed, first cures will be ready for harvest in mid- to late
August, and second cures can be harvested in late September
to early October.
The most critical part of double-crop curing is the aggressive
firing of the first cure. The first fires for single-crop cures are not
usually started until around seven days after housing; first cures
for double cropping usually need to be fired sooner in order to
stay on schedule. Fires for single-crop curing can be allowed to
go out for a few days between later fires after color is set in the
lamina, possibly allowing the tobacco to come in order a bit so
it will take finish better. Double-crop first cures, however, need
to be fired almost continuously with little or no delay between
firing in order to stay on the five-week schedule. Artificial
moisture will almost certainly have to be used to take down
first cures in a timely manner. This moisture can be added with
overhead misting systems built into the top of the barn so water
can be applied over the top of the tobacco or by applying steam
up into the tobacco from the barn floor. Most dark-fired crops
will need two applications of misting or steaming to stabilize
moisture in the leaf to allow takedown. Caution should be used
with either artificial moisture source to prevent tobacco from
getting too high in order. Steam or mist only enough to allow
the tobacco to be taken down. Additional steaming or misting
to allow stripping can be done later on the wagon if needed
(Bailey, 2007).
Don’t operate the fans during cool, dry weather (below 50 to
60В°F and below 60 to 65% relative humidity) when the tobacco
still has green or yellow color in the leaves, as over-drying and
off-colors can result.
When planning to use the electrically powered fans in conventional barns, carefully check the existing electric wiring and
service entrance components. Many barns have been wired for
only driveway or stripping-room lights and do not have enough
capacity to operate fan motors. Damaged and burned-out
wiring or motors can quickly result from insufficient electrical
service capacity. Have a local electrician or utility company
representative help you check your electrical circuits.
Tobacco Stripping Rooms
A good stripping room is very helpful for the stripping and
market preparation tasks for most producers. Some producers
strip early in the fall in the barn driveways, using wagons for
the stripping work area. Others can get by with temporarily
enclosing a portion of the barn with plastic, tarps, etc., using an
improvised or fold-up workbench and portable vented heater or
stove, or they can haul the unstripped tobacco to a more suitable
location. The advent of the big baler for burley baling requires
greater space for the baler, a supply of unstripped tobacco, and
the accumulation of stripped tobacco. As a baler is being filled
with 500 to 600 pounds of one tobacco grade, the additional
leaf grades stripped from the plants must be stored somewhere.
Such storage can be avoided only by operating multiple balers
at a greater cost.
Heated workshops or garages can serve as temporary stripping areas. Likewise, any permanent stripping room can also
serve as a workshop or storage area the rest of the year, if suitably
arranged and conveniently located. Features to be considered
for a stripping facility include:
• Workbench of proper width and height (see website below)
or appropriate mechanical stripping aid
• Overhead lighting with shatterproof shields
• Adequate space for workers bringing in stalk tobacco, for
baling equipment, and for removing the bare stalks
• Doorways large enough to accommodate tobacco handling
and personnel
• Heating equipment (with proper exhaust venting) for
warmth in cold weather
• Electricity for the lights and power equipment needs
Using Fans in Conventional Barns
High-volume ventilation fans can be used in conventional
barns to aid air circulation and improve curing. When using
fans to aid curing, make the air pass through the tobacco rather
than just circulate around the driveway or gable space. You also
need to move enough air to justify your effort in using the fans.
Most fans in the gable end of conventional barns are too small
to do much more than short-circuit air through nearby wall
and eave cracks. Fans at ground level in driveways or doorways
need to have means (boards, etc.) to direct and/or deflect air
up through the tobacco for more effective results.
The most efficient and effective method of using fans in conventional air-curing barns with numerous openings around the
eave, walls, and doors is to place good quality, belt-driven ventilation fans horizontally in the center, bottom rail of every other
bent. This placement pulls any humid, stagnant air through
the mass of tobacco from above and around the fan and blows
it directly toward the ground. Thus, air is moved through the
central core of the tobacco where moisture problems generally
first occur. To prevent damage by the fan, sticks of tobacco are
omitted directly above the fan and plants are moved away from
the sides. Leave the side ventilators or other doors open to allow
the ground-level, moist air to migrate out of the barn and fresh,
drier air to come in around the eave, through the sidewall vents,
and through the tobacco.
For beneficial curing results, fan capacity should be 12,000
to 18,000 cubic feet per minute of 0.1 inch static pressure-rated
airflow for every two bents of 32 to 40-feet wide barn. This requirement means good quality fans of 42 or 48-inch diameter;
one-half, or three-fourths hp should be suitable for the above
circulation method in conventional barns, depending on barn
size, amount of tobacco, and the effectiveness of air movement
you desire. Details on fan selection and location are given in a
separate publication (Duncan, 1992).
Operate the fans 24 hours a day during rainy or humid
weather and/or daily during the first two or three weeks of
curing when the tobacco is still green or yellow and contains
turgid stalks and stems. After about three weeks, the fans may
be operated only during the day to dry the tobacco as needed
and turned off at night to avoid bringing in moist air. Timers can
be installed to automatically power the fans on and off each day.
Blueprints available from the Biosystems and Agricultural
Engineering website show typical construction of traditional
stripping rooms. More than 20 possible layouts of larger stripping rooms for the big baler operation are also shown on the
site (
StrRmLys.pdf ).
Benches should be 32 to 36 inches high and 48 to 60 inches
wide for one side stripping or double width for workers on both
sides. The top surface of the benches should be slatted wood or
heavy wire mesh with half-inch crack openings that allow fine
particles of trash and debris to fall through.
Overhead lights should be multiple-tube fluorescent fixtures
with a reflector shield, protective mesh grid, and equal numbers
of cool white and daylight type tubes per fixture. These tubes
provide a good, economical light source to see the tobacco color
and grade qualities while stripping. Each tube should also have a
shatter-guard cover to protect the tobacco from glass contamination should a tube shatter. Special lights with a more balanced
daylight spectrum and quality of light are other options.
Leaflet 293, Improving Light Conditions for Stripping Tobacco
pdf ) on the BAE website describes various details of lighting
and color features for stripping rooms. Other details of space,
doorways, heating, and construction can be obtained from the
blueprint plans.
Tobacco stripping rooms should be kept free of trash and
other foreign matter that could contaminate the tobacco. Tobacco buyers have no tolerance for non-tobacco-related material (NTRM). NTRM contamination of tobacco is most likely to
occur during stripping, so cleanliness of stripping rooms is very
important. Any NTRM should be removed from the stripping
room before stripping begins, and workers should take breaks
and deposit trash in an area separate from the stripping room.
Care should be taken to avoid contamination from petroleum
products and chemicals stored in shop areas that double as
stripping rooms and market preparation areas.
Bailey, A. 2006a. Harvesting, Curing, and Preparing Dark AirCured Tobacco for Market. AGR-153. Coop. Ext. Service,
University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Bailey, A. 2006b. Harvesting, Curing, and Preparing Dark FireCured Tobacco for Market. AGR-152. Coop. Ext. Service,
University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Bailey, A. 2007. Double Crop Curing Dark Tobacco. AGR-196.
Coop. Ext. Service, University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Duncan, G.A. 1992. Using Fans in Conventional Burley Barns.
AEN-69. Coop. Ext. Service, University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Jeffrey, R.N. 1940. The Effect of Temperature and Relative Humidity During and After Curing upon the Quality of White
Burley Tobacco. Bulletin No. 407, Kentucky Agricultural
Experiment Station, University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Walton, L.R., and W.H. Henson Jr. 1971. Effect of environment
during curing on the quality of burley tobacco. I. Effect of low
humidity curing on support price. Tobacco Science 15:54-57.
Walton, L.R., W.H. Henson Jr., and J.M. Bunn. 1973. Effect of
environment during curing on the quality of burley tobacco.
II. Effect of high humidity curing on support price. Tobacco
Science 17:25-27.
Stripping and Preparation of Tobacco for Market
Andy Bailey, Eric Walker, Larry Swetnam, and John Wilhoit
he market preparation phase of tobacco production involves
the removal of cured tobacco from the curing facility, temporary bulking, removal of leaves from the stalk (stripping),
grading by physical characteristics, and packaging for market.
and humidifiers for tobacco conditioning on the BAE website
Tobacco in equilibrium with air below approximately 60
to 65 percent relative humidity will be so dry that leaves will
likely shatter when handled, thus losing quality and weight.
Conversely, exposure to a continuous relative humidity of
greater than 85 percent will cause the tobacco to become too
moist and subject to deterioration and damage when bulked or
baled. High-moisture tobacco will “heat up” in the bulk after a
day or so in warmer weather (above 50 to 55В°F daily average),
causing undesirable mold development, a bad smell, potential
discoloration, and, in a worst-case scenario, rot.
No inexpensive tool yet exists for growers to quickly and
accurately determine the moisture content of cured tobacco.
Such a tool could significantly benefit growers in managing their
stripping and baling operations to minimize problems related
to moisture content. Currently, grower experience is the best
tool for determining moisture content of cured tobacco. A leaf
in proper order will yield without crumbing when squeezed in
the hand but should spring back slightly after being released.
The base of the stem should remain brittle and snap or break
when doubled over. Indications that leaf moisture may be too
high for safe baling are when the leaf remains compressed even
when released and when the stem is completely pliable even
when doubled over. The development of a way to efficiently
reduce the moisture content of large batches of loose tobacco
too wet to bale could be a benefit to growers as well.
Several different methods are used for bulking tobacco. Tobacco can be bulked either with sticks still inserted or removed.
Bulking with the sticks inserted is often a method used early in
Takedown and Bulking
Tobacco should not be removed from the curing facility
until all the stems (midribs) of the leaves have dried to a firm
condition (not “fat” or “mushy”). Takedown and bulking are the
processes of removing cured tobacco from the curing structure
and consolidating for access by workers or transport to a remote
stripping location. Tobacco that must be transported to the
stripping location can be consolidated onto a scaffold wagon
or bulked onto a flatbed wagon. Tobacco should be bulked on a
clean, dry surface such as wooden boards, pallets, a wagon bed,
or similar surface. A plastic sheet can be used as a protective
barrier onto which the tobacco can be bulked, but be aware
that a layer of moisture can condense on plastic under certain
atmospheric conditions. Periodically check tobacco in contact
with plastic to detect any moisture problems.
Tobacco must be in a pliable condition for handling and bulking, which is often referred to as being in “order” or “case” and
occurs with exposure to an environment of 70 percent or higher
relative humidity for several hours (four to 12, depending on
the temperature). Producers typically wait for natural weather
conditions of good humidity and temperatures above 35В°F for
conditioning the tobacco for handling. In extreme dry periods,
steamers or overhead misting systems (in dark-fired barns)
can be used in barns that are somewhat airtight for artificially
conditioning tobacco for handling (see Information on steamers
the fall to provide better air and moisture diffusion from the
bulk when the stalks are still green and moisture laden. Stick
bulking can also make the tobacco easier to handle at the stripping location. Removing the sticks when bulking can be done
when the stalks are dry enough (general brown color) that the
moisture will not cause heating or other problems when the
bulked stalks are tightly packed for several days of warm weather
(above 45 to 50В°F daily average) before stripping. If the stalks
are still green and moist when bulked, strip within two to three
days. Put wooden sticks between bunches of stalks to permit
better ventilation and moisture diffusion when bulking for an
extended time period.
Bulking of notched plants from non-stick curing structures
should be done according to the techniques above depending
on whether the stalks are still green and moist or more dried
and brown.
In any bulking method, place your hand deep into the bulk
daily to determine that the tobacco is still cool and not beginning to heat up. If warmth is detected, prepare to strip the bulk
promptly, open up the bulk, or move the tobacco around to air
out. If heating occurs, moisture level should be reduced before
If dust or other contaminants are not prevalent, the bulk
of tobacco can be left uncovered in mild fall weather to allow
moisture diffusion. Later in the cooler and drier fall or winter
weather, a tarp or plastic cover can be put loosely over the bulk
to protect it from excessive drying and to prevent dust accumulation or other contamination.
Tobacco can also be taken down and put on scaffold wagons
until stripping if wagons and storage space are available. In
warmer fall weather, tobacco taken down onto scaffold wagons
will be less likely to heat and does not have to be stripped as
quickly as it would if it were bulked. The entire scaffold wagon
can be loosely covered with plastic to retain moisture until the
tobacco can be stripped.
An “ordering room” with heat and humidifiers available and
adequate sealing to control humidity can be useful. With this
setup, tobacco bulked down on wagons or pallets or hung on
scaffold wagons can be brought into proper order overnight for
stripping the next day. Having this capability can help minimize
the downtime often experienced during dry periods in the fall
when the natural relative humidity is too low to bring tobacco
into proper order. The ordering room should be large enough
to hold at least one day’s supply of tobacco for stripping.
Company specifications for grading tobacco can vary significantly; therefore growers should review their contracts
and talk with company representatives regarding their specific requirements. Some buying companies require only three
grades. Often weather, soil, and curing variations are such that
only three distinct grades of leaf characteristics may exist on
most plants. Over-mature harvest and/or loss of lower leaves
during harvest may reduce the lower stalk position (flyings or
trash) group. Several of the newer burley varieties maintain
such sound lower leaves that a true flying may not be produced.
Growing conditions, agronomic practices, and variety may also
limit the amount of true tips that can be produced. Stripping of
these plants into three grades might be accomplished without
significant loss in value if the marketing process permits. Past
studies have shown that the labor cost to remove a fourth grade
of limited quantity and value is not always economically feasible
(Bridges et al., 2006).
The traditional stripping methods of growers who put
tobacco into three grades often result in mixed grades from
the buying company standpoint. As the companies make their
blends, they look for specific characteristics that differ from
grade to grade. Tobacco companies can use a small percentage
of mixed-grade tobacco, but the handling characteristics of the
basic stalk positions differ substantially during processing. Even
companies that only require three grades do not want a mixed
grade of lighter lower stalk tobacco (cutter) with heavier bodied
upper stalk tobacco (leaf ). Tobacco stripped into three grades
is typically grouped into flyings, lugs, and a leaf/tip grade.
With three-grade tobacco, producers tend to strip too high
on the first grade (lower stalk) for a true flying grade but not
high enough to get a good separation between lower stalk and
upper stalk tobacco in the second grade. Generally, they put too
many leaves into the third grade for a true tips grade. As a result,
three-grade tobacco often will have a mixture of flyings and lugs
in the first grade, a mixture of lugs and leaf in the second grade,
and a mixture of leaf and tips in the third grade. Depending on
the buying company, the first grade and third grade in this type
of stripping may be acceptable, since the first grade is clearly all
light-bodied lower stalk tobacco and the third grade is all heavier
bodied upper stalk tobacco. But the mixed middle grade will be
a problem for all buyers, perhaps reducing market quality grades
from 1’s or 2’s to 3’s and causing the mixed middle grade to be
classed as cutter instead of leaf. This reduction in quality grade
has happened quite a bit with some of the lighter-colored, thinbodied crops produced in dry years. If the mixed nature of the
middle grade leads to a C3 grade, this can be quite costly for the
producer compared to a more careful separation of lower and
upper stalk tobacco. Generally, companies that want tobacco
stripped in three grades want all flyings and cutters in the first
grade, lighter bodied leaf in the second grade, and the shorter,
darker heavier bodied leaf and tips in the third grade.
Some tobacco company contracts that require four grades
use a very strict definition of tips and/or flyings, which means
fewer leaves in these grades compared to the way Kentucky
and Tennessee tobacco farmers have normally stripped. One
such crop throw would typically put only one to three leaves
into flyings (trash), five to seven leaves as lugs (cutters), half of
the stalk, or 10 to 12 leaves, as leaf tobacco, and the remaining
Stripping Burley
Stripping is the process of removing and grouping leaves by
stalk position and physical characteristics to meet marketing
requirements. A full-leafed mature burley plant can have 20 to
24 leaves. Producers who strip their tobacco into four grades
typically grade into the four stalk-positions—flyings (also referred to as trash), lugs (cutters), leaf, and tips—that are true to
former federal grade standards. Properly done, this grouping
will be acceptable to all buyers, but some buyers may not care
about a separate flyings grade or a true tip grade and will not
pay a premium for them. In this case, it could be more profitable
for the producer to strip the crop into three grades.
two to four leaves as tips. Again, growers should review their
contracts and check with company representatives for a clear
understanding of how the buyer wants the tobacco separated
into grades.
The predominant means of leaf removal is still by hand
methods, with the relay method generally being the most used
and still predominant on small and medium-sized farms. The
relay method uses workers along a bench 32 to 34 inches high
or wagon bed, with a source (pile) of cured plants at one end.
The first worker pulls the lowest grade and lays the stalk on a
pile for the second worker to remove the next grade and so on
until all leaf grades have been removed. The stripped leaves are
generally placed on the table or in a receptacle (tray, box, etc.)
adjacent to the worker so another worker can conveniently
gather the leaves for baling and carry out other support tasks
such as removal of stalks and bringing in more plants. For handling into the now-predominant big bales, large plastic hampers,
heavy-duty cardboard boxes, vegetable bins, or burlap sheets
are being used to accumulate leaves of each grade before big
Another manual method of hand stripping involves each
worker removing all grades from a plant, placing the leaves in
separate receptacles, and placing the stalks in a stalk rack. Other
workers collect and carry the leaves and stalks to appropriate
boxes, sheets, balers, or wagons.
Bare stalks accumulated at the end of stripping are periodically carried to a separate wagon, manure spreader, or similar
vehicle for later transport to a field for spreading and disposal.
Stalk choppers and conveyors for removing the stalks have been
adapted by some producers. (See the Update on Burley Harvest
and Stripping Mechanization section for further information
about stalk choppers.)
With the predominance of big baling and the non-oriented
leaf packaging that it allows (see Baling section), many growers have found that different mechanical stripping aids help
improve the efficiency of their stripping operations. Stripping
aids such as the stripping wheel and various types of straightline conveyors that move the stalks past the workers allow them
to use both hands for faster removal of leaves from the stalk.
These aids seem to work well with the larger-scale stripping
operations often used to accommodate single or multiple big
balers. Chain conveyors that move tobacco still on sticks past
workers have particularly gained popularity on larger burley
and dark tobacco farms. Studies done in the 1990s when stripping wheels were introduced showed mixed results in terms of
how much these and other stripping aids improved efficiency.
Efficiency gains ranged from a small percentage up to a 30 to 40
percent. However, these studies were done with small bales, so
that the stripped tobacco had to be oriented in small batches in
bale boxes. With large bales and non-oriented/tangled leaves,
producers seem to find the various stripping aids more advantageous. Some producers are incorporating flat belt conveyors
into their stripping operations to move leaves to the baler.
Other growers are finding that different setups for incorporating big balers into their stripping operations are more
useful than stripping aids. Studies at the University of Tennessee showed that being well organized in carrying out various
auxiliary tasks was more important than labor efficiency. Keys
to increased productivity with stripping aids and other systems
are to make sure that each worker performs efficiently as part
of the team, tasks are reasonably balanced or staged in terms
of time required per worker-task, and the flow of tobacco and
stalks in and out is smooth and efficient, with minimum distance
required for human handling.
Burley Baling
The small conventional bale of oriented leaves with air
cylinder compression in wooden boxes (an industry standard
since the 1980s) has now largely been replaced by tangled-leaf
big tobacco bales. Studies done at the University of Kentucky
and the University of Tennessee have found improvements
in labor efficiency ranging from 15 to 25 percent with the use
of big bale packaging, and many growers feel that they have
achieved similar savings. Most big balers use hydraulic cylinder
compression to form the bales in the nominal size, 42 inches
wide x 40 inches tall x 42 inches long, chambers. Some big baler
designs use air cylinders, but it takes a very large air cylinder
to compress the tobacco to densities even approaching that of
tobacco compressed by hydraulic cylinders and requires very
large air compressors to supply such cylinders. Increasing density requirements will make it more difficult to use air cylinders.
Hydraulically operated big balers can be powered by a
230-volt electric motor or tractor hydraulic connections. The
tractor-powered baler costs less and permits movement to
barns and stripping room locations where 230-volt power may
not be available. The big balers have optional load cells with an
electronic display to show the weight of leaves in the chamber,
thus permitting desired bale weights. Big balers can receive
non-oriented, tangled leaves, which presents new options and
opportunities for mechanically removing and handling leaves
from stalks when stripping, as discussed above.
The buying industry initially requested big bales in the 500- to
600-pound range, but weight specifications have been increasing since the big balers were introduced in 2005. Depending on
the buyer and tobacco grade, some tobacco is now packaged
in bales ranging in weight from 700 to 750 pounds. Moisture
content specifications have also been decreasing during that
same period. Some companies now want moisture levels of
20 percent or less, which can be very difficult to achieve with
heavier bodied grades in years with high humidity at stripping time. The combination of higher tobacco density and
lower moisture content specifications in the bale contributes
to moisture-content difficulties with big bales. Because of the
larger mass of leaves and longer moisture diffusion flow path of
the big bale from the inside to the outside, the moisture content
of big bales cannot equalize with the surrounding environment
as quickly as small, oriented leaf bales.
At the buying stations, the moisture content of the big bales
that are received are assessed with a microwave moisture analyzer instrument known as the “Malcam” (Malcam LTD, Tel
Aviv, Israel). These instruments are calibrated to determine an
average moisture content value for a bale based on microwave
signals transmitted through the bale. The technology is supposed to take bale density into account. There is a probe that
was designed and manufactured a number of years ago for measuring the moisture content in smaller bales of burley tobacco
called the Tobacco Chek moisture meter (Dagmar Enterprises
LLC, Leawood, KS). The Tobacco Chek moisture probe operates on the same principle as hay moisture testers but has been
specifically calibrated for measuring and displaying tobacco
moisture. These testers measure moisture in only a small area
of the bale near the tip of the probe, so a bale must be tested in
at least three to four locations to determine the average moisture for the bale. In evaluations conducted by the University of
Kentucky with a cooperating grower on approximately 100 big
bales, the average of three probes readings per bale were generally similar to the Malcam moisture content readings obtained
for the same bales at the buying station. However, readings for
individual bales often differed significantly. Growers should not
rely on the moisture content levels determined by Tobacco Chek
as a primary means to determine the marketability of bales of
Growers have experimented with various ways to remove
moisture from big bales with moisture content above acceptable
levels. It takes a lot of work to open and flake apart big bales for
drying. Trials performed at the University of Kentucky have
shown it was possible to get enough air movement through
600-pound bales to reduce the moisture content 1 to 2 percent
over a period of several hours, depending on the ambient conditions. Such drying rates may be far too slow to benefit large
stripping operations, however, and even those drying rates may
be unobtainable with the increased density of 700+-pound bales.
a “flake.” Flaking dark tobacco involves manually compressing
leaves during stripping into a small flake box (typical inside
dimensions 4 inches wide x 19 inches tall x 26 inches long) that
stands vertically so that a 4-inch layer or “flake” of tobacco is
formed with the leaf butts aligned. Flakes should generally not
be more than 4 inches thick and 20 inches in width. Flaking
produces compressed layers of tobacco that can be arranged in
alternating directions to build the more traditional basket-type
marketing packages. “Baskets” are generally wooden lids from
hogshead storage containers, and are usually supplied by the
buying company. The flakes of tobacco are stacked on them
neatly. If space constraints in the stripping area don’t allow
baskets to be assembled immediately, flaked dark tobacco may
be compressed into small bales (typically 18 inches wide x 12
inches tall x 36–44 inches long, depending on the length of the
tobacco) for storage until basket-type packages can be made
later or at another location. Final weight of basket marketing
packages is usually targeted at 850 pounds and should not exceed 900 pounds. Basket-type marketing packages have been
the most commonly used marketing package for dark tobacco
in past years, but newer more efficient marketing packages
for dark tobacco have been introduced by some companies in
recent years.
Some dark tobacco contracts allow delivery in C-48 cardboard boxes supplied by the buying company. Dimensions of
C-48 boxes are approximately 28 inches wide x 29 inches tall x 40
inches long. Boxes are assembled, uniformly filled with oriented
tobacco, and held together with two cotton strings. Use of these
boxes generally eliminates the use of small bales for storage until
the tobacco can be basketed and, although the tobacco is still
somewhat oriented within the box, does not require flaking.
Flaked or oriented non-flaked tobacco can be placed directly
into boxes at the time of stripping, allowing considerable time
savings compared to preparing baskets. Target weight for C-48
boxes of tobacco is approximately 250 pounds. A larger, woodreinforced cardboard box known as a “v-hog” has recently been
introduced by at least one dark tobacco buying company. The
v-hog box is much larger than C-48 boxes and can contain
approximately the same amount of tobacco as a basket, with
a target weight of 850 pounds but not exceeding 900 pounds.
Dimensions of this large box are 42 inches wide x 44 inches tall
x 44 inches long. An advantage of this large box over baskets is
that they can be stacked for transport much more easily than
Stripping Dark Tobacco
A fully mature dark tobacco plant will have 16 to 18 marketable leaves. Dark tobacco (fire-cured and air-cured) has
traditionally been sorted into three grades at stripping. These
grades include lugs (three to six leaves showing some ground
injury from the lower portion of the stalk), seconds (four to six
leaves from the middle portion of the stalk), and leaf (four to
six leaves from the upper stalk). In addition, separate grades
should be kept for “trash” and “green.” The trash grade is partial
leaves from the bottom of the stalk or whole leaves that show
excessive ground injury, and the green grade is leaves from
anywhere on the plant that show an excessive green cast or that
have dark green areas resulting from sunburn or other weatherrelated damage in the field. Many marketing contracts will only
support lug, second, and leaf grades and will not support trash
and green. Some marketing contracts for dark-fired tobacco
will require stripping into only two grades (lug and leaf ), or
even one grade, excluding trash and green. Three grades are
usually required by most contracts for dark air-cured tobacco.
Target moisture levels at delivery are generally no more than 25
percent for dark fire-cured and 22 percent for dark air-cured.
Refer to marketing contracts for specific stripping, grading, and
marketing specifications.
Hand-Tied Wrapper Leaf
Dark wrapper leaf is ultra-high-quality dark tobacco that
is broad in width, uniform in color, has small secondary veins
and almost no holes or other flaws. Cigar wrapper dark leaf is
from the leaf position only and usually makes up no more than
30 to 40 percent of the total number of the leaves on the stalk.
Dark tobacco that is sold as wrapper leaf is still tied in hands and
arranged on baskets for delivery. Hands should be neatly tied
with 10 to 15 leaves plus one tie leaf. They are usually arranged
in a circular pattern on a basket for delivery.
Marketing Packages for Dark Tobacco
All marketing packages used for dark tobacco involve at least
some level of leaf orientation, as there are currently no options
for tangled leaf marketing packages as with burley. The basic unit
of many dark tobacco marketing packages is what is known as
Non-Tobacco Related Materials
and weeds. Stripping crews should be monitored frequently to
insure that the stripping area and marketing packages are free
of NTRM.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, the tobacco industry
has no tolerance for non-tobacco related materials (NTRM) or
other contamination in tobacco marketing packages. NTRM
may be more likely in larger bales, requiring more prevention
and monitoring. Stripping areas must be kept clean, orderly, and
free of any NTRM. Woven synthetic tarps that may become
frayed can be a source of NTRM contamination and should
not be used during handling and storage of stripped tobacco, or
for covering tobacco during transport for delivery to the buying
station. Remember that NTRM is not just synthetic articles
such as plastic drink cups and food wrappers but also includes
non-marketable plant material such as stalk pieces, suckers,
Bridges, T.C., L.G. Wells, M.A. Peters, and W.O. Peterson.
2006. Evaluation of labor requirements and work rates for
conventional stripping of burley tobacco. Tobacco Science
(2003/2004) 46: 28-32.
Swetnam, L.D., G.K. Palmer, and C.L King. 1995. Tobacco Stripping Wheel Construction Guide. University of Kentucky
Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department publication. Available at
Burley Harvest and Stripping Mechanization
John Wilhoit and Larry Swetnam
urley tobacco production is labor intensive; the biggest part
of the labor requirements are harvesting and stripping.
Considerable effort has been put into mechanizing harvesting
and stripping operations over the years, but as long as labor
remained available at reasonably low rates, it has been less costly
to manually harvest and strip the tobacco. Accordingly, adoption
of new mechanization concepts and devices by producers has
been sporadic and short-lived. However, increasing difficulties with the availability of labor may spark renewed interest
in mechanization.
tions considerably, the harvest labor savings are largely offset by
the very high labor requirements for hanging the single-notched
plants on wire, compared to hanging sticks of tobacco. Also, use
of the machines imposes some constraints on managing harvest
labor, as the wagons filled with fresh-cut loose plants cannot be
left for long periods to wilt as stick-cut tobacco can be left in
the field, and large labor crews may not be able to work largely
unsupervised as they can with traditional stick harvesting operations. Another severe limitation is the difficulties these and
other harvesting machines have with handling wind-blown,
crooked tobacco stalks, as are concerns about excessive losses
due to leaf breakage (Wilhoit and Duncan, 2012).
A new low-cost harvesting concept that mechanizes tobacco
hanging operations has been under development and evaluation for several years in the Department of Biosystems and
Agricultural Engineering at the University of Kentucky. With
this concept, traditional stick-harvested tobacco is loaded onto
loose wooden rails carried through the field on a rail wagon, then
these rails are picked up from the rail wagons and set in place
on field curing structures using a large set of forks on a tractor
front-end loader. The loads of approximately 50 sticks each can
be transported efficiently to field structures using the tractor
with front-end loader provided the distance to the structure is
not too far (approximately 600 ft or less). Initial work with this
system focused on the use of portable wooden field structures
that can be set up close to the tobacco field in order to minimize
this travel distance. Use of portable field curing structures in
this manner can help encourage better rotation practices, but
it adds a lot of difficulty and expense to the use of the system.
To overcome some of the limitations of using portable field
structures, trials were conducted in 2014 evaluating the use
of larger unit loads transported longer distances by tractor
to permanent field curing structures. With this configuration
of the system, the loader tractor stays at the structure, while
multiple transport units (tractors pulling trains of rail wagons)
cycle between the tobacco field and the field curing structures.
The results of these trials with the larger unit load configuration
were encouraging. A benefit of this configuration is that it can
The automated burley harvesters manufactured by GCH
International were used to harvest large amounts of tobacco on
farms in both Illinois and Kentucky from 2006 to 2009. These
machines can drastically reduce the labor requirements for harvesting tobacco, but the system is very expensive, and only one
of the units originally manufactured is still in use in the United
States. That unit has been used to harvest approximately 80 acres
annually on a farm in Henry County, Kentucky. Meanwhile, a
tobacco growers’ cooperative in France purchased a new unit of
the harvester from GCH and used it to harvest approximately
60 acres in 2011. Subsequently, they purchased a second unit
and used both to harvest approximately 165 acres in 2012 (Wells
et al., 2012). The quality of the cured leaf using the automated
harvester system has been judged to be equivalent or superior
to that from conventional harvesting in France, and efforts are
continuing there to reduce system cost and improve reliability.
Three-point hitch mounted plant-notching harvesters
manufactured by MarCo Manufacturing Company and Kirpy
generated considerable interest from growers following their
demonstrations at field days in 2005 through 2007, and many of
them were purchased and used by growers in Kentucky, North
Carolina, and Indiana. In the past few years, however, growers
have ceased switching over to this harvesting technology, and
many growers who own the machines have even quit using
them. There are many reasons for the waning interest in the
notching harvesters. While they do speed up harvesting opera47
be adapted to increasingly larger scale operations by adding
additional tractor/rail wagon trains. As with other outside field
curing structure systems, the wooden rail harvesting system
eliminates hazardous hanging work high off the ground and
significantly reduces hanging labor requirements compared to
hanging in traditional tobacco barns.
each grade), and then separates the leaf pieces from the stalk
pieces (Day et al., 2012).
Another mechanized stripping machine system that has
been used for a number of years by French tobacco growers
has recently received some interest in the United States. The
machine, which is called Tabworks, is made by the Spanish
company Eodiss Systems (
contactar.html). With this machine, tobacco stalks are placed
across a chain conveyor with the leaves hanging downward, and
the machine uses a pair of opposing rollers to pull the leaves
from the stalk (separated by stalk positions into different grades)
as the stalks are conveyed past. Some efforts to determine the
applicability and labor efficiency of using this machine with U.S.
burley have recently been initiated.
The changeover to big bale packaging for burley production
and the accompanying opportunity for putting non-oriented
leaf into the bales, led to an initial flurry of interest in various
stripping aids that moved the stalks past the workers allowing
them to use both hands to more rapidly remove the leaves.
Such aids include the stripping wheel and various types of
straight-line conveyors. Of these stripping aids, the dual chain
conveyor, which moves sticks of tobacco hanging vertically
downward past the workers, has gained the most widespread
use, especially in dark tobacco. In one study, the dual chain
conveyor had a reported labor productivity of 57 pounds per
worker-hour for 10.8 workers, meaning an overall capacity of
over 600 pounds per hour, quite high for a relatively simple and
inexpensive mechanism (Wilhoit and Duncan, 2013). As the
size of tobacco operations has increased since the end of the
federal quota system, timeliness in getting a crop processed has
become more important, meaning high capacity can be a more
critical factor for producers than actual labor efficiency when
it comes to mechanization innovations.
Some of the initial interest in these stripping aids seems to
have leveled off as growers have tried different ways of incorporating big balers into their stripping system to improve labor
efficiency. Some of the things growers are doing include pulling wagonloads of tobacco directly into large stripping rooms,
taking portable balers to the barns and stripping wagons in the
barn driveway, using various multi-chambered balers that have
become available, powering two balers off a single hydraulic
power source, and even stripping directly into the balers. Some
growers consider stripping aids to fit well into their systems,
while others may feel that they are obtaining good efficiency
with whatever setup they are using for organizing the workers
and relaying the tobacco stalks.
There continues to be interest in using stalk choppers with
the larger-scale stripping operations that are becoming more
common, although the uncertainties in the tobacco markets
have probably curtailed interest somewhat. Many farmers have
converted old forage choppers, powering them electrically,
to make tobacco stalk choppers. Several units of a purposebuilt tobacco stalk chopper developed in the Department of
Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at the University of
Kentucky have also been used on Kentucky farms in the last
several years. Two units of this stalk chopper were built and
sold by a local fabricator, but no one is manufacturing the unit
Stripping and Market Preparation
A mechanical leaf-removing stripping machine developed
by Carolina Tobacco Services that was introduced at tobacco
field days and trade shows in 2006-2007 initially received
considerable interest from the tobacco industry. The CTS
stripping machine uses “sticker” type chains to hold the tip
end of plants hanging vertically downward, conveying them
past angled wiper bars that strip off leaves as the plants move
through a length of 14 to 16 feet. Different leaf grades fall
into boxes below the plants along that length. Tips have to be
stripped by hand before loading the plants into the machine.
Evaluations conducted both by the University of Kentucky
and the University of Tennessee have shown that this machine
can significantly improve labor efficiency over typical manual
stripping. In one study, a crew of seven workers was able to
strip around 70 pounds per worker-hour, or about 35 workerhours per acre for a 2,500-pound-per-acre crop (compared
to 50 to 75 worker-hr/A for conventional stripping) (Wilhoit
and Duncan, 2013). Very few of these machines were ever
purchased by private growers, however, as the high initial
cost and high maintenance costs of the machines are hard to
justify despite the potential savings in stripping labor. Other
factors have also limited the adoption of this technology. The
distribution of leaf into grades is less precise than with hand
stripping, due to differences in the length of stalks and the fact
that some lower stalk leaves will fall off the stalk prematurely
as it goes through the machine and be in the upper stalk boxes.
It is very difficult to properly separate flyings from cutters due
to differences in stalk length. This limitation results in mixed
grades and has led to lower prices in some cases for the mechanically stripped tobacco. Suckers, morning glory vines, and
pieces of stalk also end up in the tobacco, potentially increasing
NTRM problems.
Other stripping concepts are under development and
evaluation in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural
Engineering at the University of Kentucky. One concept uses
string trimmers to detach different leaf grades as stalks are
conveyed along a length in a configuration similar to that of
the CTS stripping machine but with the stalks held upright
from below and the flyings stripped by hand as the machine is
loaded, rather than held from above and the tips stripped by
hand. Lab-scale tests with a prototype based on this concept
have given promising results with stripping efficiencies, but
challenges/limitations have been encountered in attempting to
scale the prototype up to continuously strip large numbers of
plants. Grading accuracy and string wear/breakage are issues
with this concept that need to be evaluated on an operational
scale (Sperry et al., 2013). Another very high capacity mechanical stripping system has been under development that segments
the tobacco plant into sections of stalk with leaf attached (for
at this time. Stalk choppers that incorporate conveyers, so that
they are fed continuously as workers strip the tobacco, offer the
best gains in efficiency for stripping operations because they
eliminate the need for accumulating bare stalks and carrying
them out of the stripping room and manually loading them on
wagons or in manure spreaders. Chopping the stalks can have
significant advantages on the loading and spreading end as well,
especially if the chopped stalk is loaded directly into manure
spreaders. Labor requirements for spreading are considerably
reduced compared to having to throw whole stalks off a wagon
manually, and uniformity is much better than if whole stalks are
spread with a manure spreader.
Videos of the operation of some of the mechanization innovations mentioned, as well as information about the sources
of some of the equipment, are shown on the UK BAE tobacco
website: Check the BAE
website for periodic updates.
Sperry, R.G., J.H. Wilhoit, and G.A. Duncan. 2013. Development of a semi-automated tobacco stripping machine
utilizing string trimmers. Applied Engineering in Agriculture
Day V, G.B., T.D. Smith, and L.G. Wells. High-capacity market
preparation for burley tobacco. Presentation and abstract,
45th Tobacco Workers Conference, Williamsburg, VA.
January 16-19, 2012.
Wells, L.G., J.L. Goudouneche, T.D. Smith, G.B. Day V, and
M. Harpring. Mechanical harvesting of burley tobacco in
France. Presentation and abstract, 45th Tobacco Workers
Conference, Williamsburg, VA. January 16-19, 2012.
Wilhoit, J.H., and G.A. Duncan. 2012. Evaluation of labor requirements for burley tobacco stalk-notching harvesters.
Tobacco Science (2012) 49:25-30.
Wilhoit, J.H., and G.A. Duncan. 2013. Labor productivity and
requirements for stripping burley tobacco. Tobacco Science
TSNAs in Burley and Dark Tobacco
Anne Jack, Lowell Bush, and Andy Bailey
What Are TSNAs?
Factors Affecting TSNA Accumulation
Nitrosamines are nitrogenous compounds, some of which
are carcinogenic. They are found in a wide range of food and cosmetic products, as well as in tobacco. TSNAs, tobacco-specific
nitrosamines, are so called because they are formed only from
tobacco alkaloids and found only in tobacco leaves and in the
particulate phase of tobacco smoke. With the current emphasis
on the health risks of tobacco, TSNA reduction has become a
major issue for the tobacco industry.
Several TSNAs have been identified, but interest has focused
on the four most important: NNK, NNN, NAT, and NAB. Of
these, NNN is the most important in burley and dark tobacco.
Three main factors affect the amount of TSNA accumulation:
The amount of specific alkaloid precursor. In the case of burley
and dark tobaccos, this precursor is nornicotine, and it is mainly
determined by the amount of conversion of nicotine to nornicotine in the seedlot used. Screened or “LC” seed has been
selected for low conversion, and we have shown that selecting
screened or LC seed results in significantly lower TSNAs.
The amount of nitrosating agent. Nitrite, NO2-, is the main
nitrosating agent for air-cured tobacco and is determined by
the microbial populations reducing the leaf nitrate to nitrite.
The microbial populations are affected by curing conditions,
particularly during the first 35 days of curing. The amount of
leaf nitrate, determined by available soil nitrogen, has little
direct effect on the amount of leaf nitrite; any effect is indirect,
through the effect of nitrate on the thickness and drying rate
of the leaf. With the levels of nitrate found in the normal production range, the main effect of applied nitrogen fertilizer on
TSNAs is through the effect on alkaloid level. During fire-curing,
nitrogen oxides (NOx) are the nitrosating agent and are the
result of combustion of wood during firing.
The amount of total alkaloids/nicotine. The relative amount of
nornicotine depends on conversion, and the absolute amount
depends on the amount of nicotine originally present. The
higher the nicotine, the higher the absolute amount of nornicotine (because there is more nicotine available to be converted
to nornicotine) and consequently the higher the potential for
TSNA accumulation. The amount of total alkaloid is determined
partly by environmental conditions, such as rainfall, and partly
by agronomic practices, such as fertilization, topping, maturity
at harvest, etc.
If any of these factors (conversion, nitrosating agent, total
alkaloids) are reduced, TSNAs are reduced (Figure 1).
How Are TSNAs Formed?
Negligible amounts of TSNAs are present in freshly harvested tobacco. They are mainly formed during curing, specifically
during the late yellowing to early browning stage. Typically this
occurs over a two-week period between the third and fifth week
after harvest but can be earlier or later depending on curing
TSNAs are formed by the nitrosation of tobacco alkaloids
(addition of a nitrogen and an oxygen atom to the alkaloid
molecule). NNN is formed by the nitrosation of the alkaloid
nornicotine. The nitrosating agent in air-cured tobacco is usually
nitrite, derived from the reduction of leaf nitrate by the action
of microbes during curing. In fire-cured tobacco, the nitrosating
agents are both nitrite and any of several nitrogen oxides (NOx)
formed during the fire-curing process. Both the alkaloid and the
nitrosating agent are necessary for the formation of TSNAs. Any
practices or conditions that increase the accumulation of either
of these groups of compounds would be expected to increase
Seed Screening
and curing conditions; differences are more likely to be apparent
under conditions conducive to higher TSNA accumulation.
To date, no varietal differences in TSNA accumulation have
been observed in dark tobacco varieties.
Reducing the amount of nornicotine precursor for NNN is
the single most effective step in reducing TSNA accumulation.
Figure 2 illustrates the difference in NNN between two varieties,
a non-commercial high converter and a screened low converter.
There are very low inherent levels of nornicotine in the
green plant; it is mainly formed by the conversion of nicotine
to nornicotine during curing. The ability of plants to convert
nicotine is under genetic control, and most modern varieties
have been selected for minimum conversion.
In the U.S., all the public varieties have been screened; i.e.,
the foundation seed was selected for low conversion, which
is indicated by “LC” (low converter) in the variety name (for
example, TN 90LC, KT 204LC). Many other varieties also have
this designation. Some varieties do not have the LC designation,
but “screened seed” is indicated on the seed pack. All seed of
commercially viable varieties has now been screened, and there
should be no unscreened seed sold in the domestic seed market.
Prior to universal seed screening, many seedlots had relatively high conversion, and consequently the potential for high
TSNA formation. There has been a considerable reduction in
TSNAs in recent years as a direct result of seed screening.
What the grower can do
Variety choice is a minor consideration in relation to TSNA
Choose the variety most suited to local conditions, paying
particular attention to the disease spectrum. If KT 204LC meets
the requirements, the choice of this variety may contribute to
lowering TSNAs.
Nitrogen fertilization has a considerable impact on TSNA
accumulation in the leaf, but the effect is indirect; nitrate is not
directly involved in TSNA synthesis in the leaf. Nitrate affects
TSNA levels mainly through its effect on alkaloid levels, and also
through the effect on the body and drying rate of the leaf. However, high nitrate in the leaf is undesirable because additional
TSNAs may be produced during storage and cigarette smoking.
Many studies have found large differences in TSNAs between
very high and very low nitrogen rates. However, within the
normal production range, the effect was observed to be much
smaller and often inconsistent. Growing and curing conditions
can play a large role in determining how nitrogen rates affect
TSNAs, even when the rates are extreme. Only when many
studies were pooled were researchers able to show a clear relationship between the amount of applied nitrogen and TSNA
accumulation. Figure 4 shows the strong linear trend for TSNAs
to increase with increasing nitrogen. On average, TSNAs will
increase 0.05 ppm for every 10 pound per acre increase in applied nitrogen.
The total amount of applied nitrogen is the critical factor, regardless of whether it is all applied as a pretransplant application
or is split between pretransplant and sidedressing. Sidedressing
does not appear to cause a significant increase in TSNAs, as long
as it is applied at the recommended time. Applying sidedress
nitrogen later than six weeks after transplanting could increase
TSNA levels under some conditions.
To some extent, there seem to be inherent differences between some burley varieties in their potential to accumulate
TSNAs, differences that are not explained by conversion levels.
These differences are small, but they do appear to be real. For
example, it appears that KT 204LC often has lower TSNA levels
than some other varieties (Figure 3). We do not yet understand
the mechanism for these varietal differences. Like all factors affecting TSNAs, these differences are not always apparent. They
are dependent to a large extent on the environmental growing
nitrite or
*Targets for TSNA reduction.
Figure 2. NNN (ppm) for high
converter (HC) and low converter
(LC) burley varieties over two
years. Within each year, bars with
different letters are significantly
different at the 5% level.
NNN (ppm)
Figure 1. NNN formation.
Figure 3. Total TSNAs (ppm)
for KT 204LC and NCBH
129LC; mean over two years.
Bars with different letters are
significantly different at the
5% level.
Total TSNAs (ppm)
What the grower can do
The most important step in TSNA reduction, the use of LC
or screened seed, has been taken for U.S. tobacco growers. All
seed on the domestic market is now screened, and all contracts
with major tobacco companies now require the grower to use
LC or screened seed.
KT 204LC
Figure 4. TSNAs vs. nitrogen rates for three years, five locations.
There is no clear link between nitrogen source and TSNAs.
Fat stems can increase TSNAs by retaining moisture in the
leaf stem. Fat stems can be caused by late uptake of nitrogen
(late sidedressing or a dry period followed by rain shortly before
harvest) and by the use of muriate of potash fertilizers.
Every 10 units N rise, 0.05 ppm TSNA rise ON AVERAGE.
TSNA (ppm)
What the grower can do
Judicious fertilizer application is one of the more feasible
steps a grower can take to reduce TSNAs.
• Apply no more nitrogen than is necessary for the crop. In
addition to minimizing TSNAs, there are many other good
reasons to avoid excessive nitrogen—not the least of which
is cost. Excess nitrogen can also cause disease problems and
contribute to groundwater pollution, and it does not increase
• If sidedressing, apply nitrogen within four to five weeks after
• Avoid spring applications of muriate fertilizers. If muriate
fertilizers are used, they should be applied in the fall. Chloride also has an adverse effect on quality and causes the cured
leaf to be more hygroscopic (moisture absorbing).
N Rate, lb/A
Bush, Team TSNA
Harvesting Practices
Field-wilting longer than necessary can, under some conditions, increase TSNAs. Figure 5 shows the TSNA accumulation
in burley tobacco field-wilted for three and six days. These
increases are small and are not always apparent, but it is advisable not to field-wilt burley longer than three days, as this can
have a detrimental effect not only on TSNA accumulation but
also on leaf quality.
What the grower can do. Weather and availability of labor often dictate when the tobacco can be housed, but house burley
tobacco as soon as possible, ideally within a few days of cutting.
Any effect of topping on TSNAs is indirect through the effect
on alkaloid levels. Topping early and/or low increases alkaloids
and would be expected to increase TSNAs. We do not have
much data on this topic, but indications are that differences
are small and unlikely to have much impact, especially with
low converters.
Growing season and curing environment play a very large
role in TSNA accumulation. Figure 2 shows the effect of season
on a high and a low converter variety. At this site, 2005 was a
year very conducive to TSNA accumulation; 2004 was not.
The more than tenfold difference between years was due solely
to environmental differences, as the same seed and growing
practices were used in both years. Note that the low converter
variety in 2005 (when conditions were highly conducive) still
had lower TSNAs than the high converter in 2004 (when conditions were very unfavorable for TSNA formation).
Th e m a i n f a c to r s
affecting air-curing in Figure 5. Total TSNAs (ppm), means
relation to TSNAs are across varieties, for burley tobacco
temperature, relative hu- field-wilted for 3 and 6 days after
cutting. Bars with different letters are
midity, and air movement. significantly different at the 5% level
• Higher temperatures
increase TSNAs be2.0
cause biological and
chemical reactions are
faster at higher tema
• Higher humidity in1.0
creases TSNAs because it is favorable for
the nitrite-producing
microbes and the leaf
What the grower can do
The effect of topping on TSNA accumulation is relatively
minor. Top as recommended for best yield and quality (see
Topping section of this publication).
Maturity at Harvest
Several studies have shown that TSNAs increase with increased maturity at harvest. Earlier studies used unscreened
seed, and we know that conversion increases with increased
maturity. Current results show a similar but smaller response
with the low converter varieties now in use. The increase in
TSNAs with increased maturity is due mainly to the higher
alkaloids in later harvested tobacco; alkaloids increase steadily
after topping.
Total TSNAs (ppm)
What the grower can do
Weather and availability of labor to cut the crop often limit
the grower’s choice of harvest date, but to the extent possible,
harvest at the maturity for best yield and quality.
• Burley. Typically the best compromise between yield and
quality is approximately three and a half to four weeks after
• Dark air-cured. Harvest five to six weeks after topping; some
early maturing varieties may require earlier harvest.
• Dark fire-cured. Harvest six to seven weeks after topping; some
early maturing varieties may require earlier harvest.
3 days
6 days
field wilting field wilting
remains alive and active longer during curing, allowing
more conversion of nicotine to nornicotine. Thus, with the
increased nitrite and nornicotine available, more TSNA is
• Increased air movement decreases TSNAs mainly by increasing the drying rate of the leaf.
metal siding. Many fire-cured barns are also equipped with fans
in the top of the barn that can be used to increase ventilation
early in the cure. Although differences in barn design and the
fire-curing process itself allow more control over curing conditions and less influence of outside weather conditions, the
growing season and curing environment still play a major role
in TSNA accumulation in fire-cured tobacco.
Fire-curing allows more potential for TSNA accumulation
than air-curing. Higher temperatures are involved, which
increases the speed of biological and chemical reactions, and
nitrogen oxide (NOx) gases are produced by the burning of
wood, which increases nitrosation of tobacco alkaloids. However, some basic management practices for fire-curing can
reduce the potential for high TSNA formation.
Avoid packing sticks too closely in the barn, as this can lead
to poor cured leaf quality, losses in cured leaf weight, poor or
uneven smoke finish on leaves, and higher TSNAs.
Ideally, start firing within seven days after housing. Avoid
firing the tobacco more or longer than necessary to produce
cured leaf with acceptable quality and marketability. Growers
should strive to keep barn temperatures below 130В°F, even
during the drying stage of the cure. Ideally, tobacco should not
be kept at 130В°F longer than four to five days; by seven days at
this temperature, TSNAs would be expected to increase.
Artificial casing with overhead misting systems or steamers
is often required for takedown in dark fire-cured tobacco due
to the extremely dry condition of the tobacco after curing is
complete. This is particularly true with first cures in double-crop
curing, where takedown needs to occur quickly following curing. Research has shown that use of overhead misting systems
at takedown may result in lower TSNAs than steam.
High humidity and high temperatures result in high TSNAs
and often in houseburn. Low temperatures or low humidity
result in low TSNAs but green or piebald tobacco. The conditions best for optimal quality (moderate temperatures and 72
to 75% relative humidity, i.e., a long, slow cure) are also favorable for TSNA accumulation. Under these conditions, TSNAs
levels will be unacceptable if there is any appreciable amount
of conversion. However, TSNAs will usually be acceptable if
conversion is low and curing is well managed. Low converters
can have significant amounts of TSNAs in conducive conditions if the curing is not properly managed (see Figure 2, low
converter in 2005). The challenge is to produce quality tobacco
with acceptable levels of TSNAs.
Tests have shown that TSNAs in outdoor burley curing
structures are very similar to those in a conventional barn
(Figure 6) if they are in the same vicinity and experience similar
environmental conditions.
The location and orientation of a barn can have a considerable effect on TSNAs by affecting the amount of ventilation.
There can be big differences in TSNAs between tobaccos cured
in different barns. TSNAs will tend to be lower in exposed barns
on ridges and higher in barns in protected hollows with limited
air movement.
Various barn modifications have been tested, but none have
yet resulted in a practical and economical system to consistently
reduce TSNAs while producing quality tobacco.
What the grower can do
The most effective steps a grower can take are to minimize
the effects of high temperatures (which increase the speed
of TSNA-forming reactions) and wood combustion (which
increases the amount of nitrosating agent). Do the following:
• Fire dark tobacco no more than necessary.
• Ideally, start firing within seven days after housing.
• Strive to keep barn temperatures in fire-cured barns below
• Ideally, do not keep temperatures at 130°F for longer than
four to five days.
• Space plants evenly on sticks, and place sticks evenly on the
What the grower can do
Attention has focused on ventilation, because there is little
that a grower can do to control ambient humidity and temperature during air-curing. However, ventilation can be manipulated to a limited extent to maintain quality. Managing curing
specifically for very low TSNAs will often result in poor quality
tobacco, so the best curing management is a balance between
enough humidity for good quality and enough ventilation to
minimize TSNA formation. Take the following steps:
• Space plants evenly on sticks, and space sticks evenly on the
• Avoid packing sticks too closely (actual stick spacing will vary
with barn design and size of tobacco).
• Manage vents to ensure adequate but
Figure 6. NNN (ppm) in a conventional barn (left) and outdoor curing structure (right).
not excessive ventilation.
Fire-curing of dark tobacco involves the
burning of hardwood slabs and sawdust
on the floor of the barn during curing.
Although fire-curing barns have bottom
and top ventilators, they are typically much
tighter than air-cured barns and most have
Best Management Practices for Minimizing TSNAs
• Avoid packing sticks too closely.
• Use minimal artificial casing.
• Consider using overhead misting systems instead of steam
when artificial casing is needed in fire-cured tobacco.
TSNA formation is a very complex process, and one cannot
consider any of the factors contributing to it in isolation. All of
these factors interact, sometimes resulting in TSNA differences
and sometimes do not. These practices will contribute to lowering TSNAs:
• Use LC or screened seed.
• Choose the most suitable variety with the appropriate disease
resistance package. (If KT 204LC meets other requirements,
the choice of this variety may help to lower TSNAs.)
• Use no more nitrogen than necessary to optimize yield.
• Avoid spring applications of muriate fertilizers.
• If sidedressing, apply nitrogen within four to five weeks after
• Top correctly.
• Harvest at correct maturity, ideally about three and a half to
four weeks after topping for burley, about five to six weeks
for dark air-cured, and about six to seven weeks for dark
• House burley tobacco as soon as possible, ideally within a
few days of cutting.
• To the extent possible, do not cut or house tobacco with free
moisture on the leaves.
• Manage air-curing carefully, ensuring adequate but not
excessive ventilation, and avoid houseburn.
• Avoid overpacking the barn, and space sticks and plants on
the sticks evenly.
• Fire dark tobacco no more than necessary.
• Ideally, start firing dark fire-cured tobacco within seven days
after housing.
• Strive to keep barn temperatures in fire-cured barns below
• Ideally, do not keep temperatures in fire-cured barns at 130°F
for longer than four to five days.
• Allow burley tobacco to come into case naturally and use
minimal artificial casing for dark tobacco, ideally misting
systems instead of steam.
• Do not leave tobacco in storage longer than necessary; strip,
bale, and deliver tobacco as soon as possible.
• Keep moisture in the leaf as low as possible; do not put highmoisture tobacco into storage, and do not deliver tobacco
with moisture higher than specified in the contract.
Control of Microbes
The nitrite-producing microbes are ubiquitous and cannot
be avoided. They are endophytic (inside the leaf ), which makes
application of any treatment very difficult.
Many chemicals and biological agents have been tested, but
none of them has resulted in a practical control method. Correct
curing will help to control microbes.
What the grower can do
At this point, there is no treatment to directly control the
nitrifying microbes. Manage curing for production of high
quality, full flavor and aroma tobacco and avoid houseburn
conditions that are conducive to microbial activity.
Moisture and Storage
Studies have shown that housing wet tobacco can increase
TSNAs, as can storing high-moisture tobacco. It is difficult to
control the moisture content of tobacco when using artificial
methods of casing such as steam or water sprays, and overapplication of water to cured leaf can result in unsafe moisture
levels during storage. For this reason, it is better to use natural
casing if possible.
TSNAs generally increase with time in storage, although
this is less evident in low converter tobacco. Tobacco should
therefore not be left in storage longer than necessary.
What the grower can do
The following steps will help to minimize the effects of
moisture on the nitrite-producing microbes:
• To the extent possible, do not house tobacco with free moisture on the leaves.
• Allow air-cured tobacco to come into case naturally if possible. If using artificial casing, avoid over-applying moisture.
• Use minimal artificial casing for fire-cured tobacco, and
consider using overhead misting systems instead of steam.
• Strip, bale, and deliver tobacco as soon as possible to avoid
any extra time in storage.
• Keep moisture in the cured tobacco as low as possible, ensuring that it is below the level specified in the contract.
Weed Management
J.D. Green, Neil Rhodes, and Chuck Johnson
eeds can impact tobacco production by reducing yield,
interfering with crop harvest, and contaminating cured
leaf as non-tobacco related material (NTRM). Many of the
common weed problems in tobacco are summer annuals such
as foxtails, pigweeds, lambsquarters, and annual morningglories.
In addition, some perennials such as Johnsongrass, honeyvine
milkweed, and yellow nutsedge can be particularly troublesome
in some tobacco fields. In locations where troublesome weeds
are difficult to control it may become necessary to choose an
alternative field site to grow tobacco. Table 1 is a guide to the
relative response of selected weeds to various herbicides available for use in tobacco.
Land preparation practices such as moldboard plowing and
disking provide initial weed control by destroying early season
weeds that emerge before transplanting. Field cultivation and
hand-hoeing are also traditional methods to maintain good
weed control post-transplant, but effective herbicide control
options decrease the need for mechanical control methods. A
foliar burn-down herbicide also allows production of tobacco
by conservation tillage methods. Specific herbicide options
that are currently recommended for use on tobacco fields are
discussed in Table 2.
Use of certain herbicides on a previous crop can limit the
rotational crops that can be planted in treated fields. For example, when atrazine is applied for weed control in corn during
the previous growing season, there is a possibility that tobacco
could be injured the year following application. Residual carryover from some pasture or forage crop herbicides can also
severely damage tobacco planted in treated fields, sometimes for
many years after the original application. Therefore, consult the
herbicide labels to determine whether there is a risk to planting
tobacco in fields that were used to grow grain or forage crops.
General rotational crop guidelines for herbicides available in
grain crops can be found in University of Kentucky Extension
bulletin Weed Control Recommendations for Kentucky Grain
Crops (AGR-6), the University of Tennessee Extension bulletin
Weed Control Manual for Tennessee (PB 1580), the North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual, or the Virginia Cooperative
Extension Pest Management Guide for Field Crops (456-016).
Be familiar with label guidelines and rotational restrictions when applying tobacco herbicides. Limitations for some
rotational crops are highlighted within the remarks for each
herbicide listed in Table 2.
Spartan Charge
Spartan + Command
G = Good F = Fair P = Poor N = None - No Data Available
1 This table should be used only as a guide for comparing the relative effectiveness of herbicides to a particular weed. Under extreme
environmental conditions, the herbicide may perform better or worse than indicated in the table. If a grower is getting satisfactory
results under their own conditions, products should not necessarily be changed as a result of the information in the table.
Ragweed, Giant
Common Ragweed
Prickly Sida
Galinsoga, Hairy
Black Nightshade
Yellow Nutsedge
Johnsongrass (rhizome)
Johnsongrass (seedling)
Fall Panicum
Braodleaf Signalgrass
Table 1. Guide to the relative response of weeds to herbicides1
Table 2. Herbicides recommended for use in tobacco fields
Weeds Controlled
Remarks and Limitations
Before Transplanting—Burndown Herbicides for Use in Conservation Tillage
Gramoxone SL 2.0
Annual grasses and
A copy of the supplemental label should be in the hands of the
2.74 to 3.75 pt/A
broadleaf type weeds
applicator at time of application. Apply as a broadcast treatment
(paraquat 0.6 to 0.94 lb ai/A)
that have emerged or for
during the early spring but prior to transplanting tobacco. Use the
burn-down of cover crops. higher rate on dense populations and/or on larger or harder to control
Non-Ionic Surfactant 2 pt/100 gal Apply when weeds and
weeds. Weeds and grasses emerging after application will not be
cover crop are actively
controlled. A maximum of 2 applications may be made. Gramoxone
Crop Oil Concentrate 1 gal/100 gal growing and between
may be tank-mixed with other registered tobacco herbicides for
1 to 6 inches in height.
improved burndown. Do not graze treated areas or feed treated cover
Supplemental label for use in KY, TN, Vegetation 6 inches
crops to livestock.
and NC only
or taller may not be
effectively controlled.
Before Transplanting—Soil-applied Herbicides
Devrinol 50DF 2-4 lb/A
Barnyardgrass, broadleaf
Apply to a weed-free surface before transplanting and incorporate
signalgrass, crabgrass, fall immediately, preferably in the same operation. Follow incorporation
Devrinol DF-XT 2-4 lb/A
panicum, foxtails, purslane directions on label. The XT formulations include a UV-light protectant
which can be surface applied or incorporated. Small grain may be
Devrinol 2-XT 2-4 qt/A
seeded in rotation in the fall to prevent soil erosion, but may be
(napropamide 1-2 lb ai/A)
stunted. Small grains used as rotation crops must be plowed under
or otherwise destroyed. To avoid injury to crops not specified on the
label, do not plant other rotational crops until 12 months after the last
DEVRINOL application.
Prowl 3.3EC
Barnyardgrass, broadleaf
Apply to prepared soil surface up to 60 days prior to transplanting.
3 to 3.6 pt/A
signalgrass, crabgrass,
Incorporate within 7 days after application within the top 1 to 2 inches
(pendimethalin 1.25 to 1.5 lb ai/A)
fall panicum, foxtails,
of soil. Consult incorporation directions on label. Emerged weeds will
lambsquarters, pigweeds, not be controlled. Tobacco plants growing under stress conditions
Prowl H2O
(cold/wet or hot/dry weather) may be injured where PROWL is used.
3 pt/A
Wheat or barley may be planted 120 days after application unless small
(pendimethalin 1.4 lb ai/A)
grains will be planted in a no-tillage system. Similar pendimethalin
products include ACUMEN, FRAMEWORK 3.3EC, PENDIMETHALIN, and
Command 3ME
Apply COMMAND 3ME as a soil-applied treatment prior to
2 to 2.67 pt/A
broadleaf signalgrass,
transplanting. Off-site movement of spray drift or vapors of COMMAND
(clomazone 0.75 to 1 lb ai/A)
crabgrass, fall panicum,
can cause foliar whitening or yellowing of nearby sensitive plants.
foxtails, jimsonweed,
Consult label for spray drift precautions and required setbacks when
lambsquarters, prickly
applied near sensitive crops and other plants. Tobacco plants growing
sida, purslane, common
under stressed conditions (cold/wet weather) may show temporary
ragweed, velvetleaf
symptoms of whitening or yellowing. COMMAND may be tank-mixed
with other herbicides registered for use in tobacco to broaden the
weed control spectrum or with other tobacco pesticides. Cover crops
may be planted anytime, but foliar whitening, yellowing, and/or stand
reductions may occur in some areas. Do not graze or harvest for food
or feed cover crops planted less than 9 months after treatment. When
COMMAND 3ME is applied alone, rotational crops that may be planted
include soybeans, peppers, or pumpkins anytime; field corn, popcorn,
sorghum, cucurbits, or tomatoes (transplanted) after 9 months; sweet
corn, cabbage, or wheat after 12 months; and barley, alfalfa, or forage
grasses after 16 months following application. See label for rotation
guidelines for other crops and when tank-mixed with other herbicides.
Spartan 4F
Black nightshade,
Use the higher rate of SPARTAN when weed pressure is heavy with
8 to 12 fl.oz/A
morningglory or yellow nutsedge. Apply from 14 days before up to
(sulfentrazone 0.25 to 0.375 lb ai/A) lambsquarters,
12 hours prior to transplanting tobacco as a soil-surface treatment or
morningglories, pigweeds, preplant incorporated (less than 2 inches deep). Perform all cultural
prickly sida, purslane,
practices for land preparation, fertilizer/fungicide incorporation,
etc. prior to application of SPARTAN. If the soil must be worked after
application but prior to transplanting, do not disturb the soil to a depth
greater than 2 inches. Temporary stunting or yellowing of tobacco
and localized leaf burns may be observed under some conditions with
this treatment. Unacceptable crop injury can occur if applied posttransplant. Spartan may be impregnated on dry bulk fertilizers (consult
label). Proper mixing and uniform spreading of the impregnated
fertilizer mixture on the soil surface is required for good weed control
and to avoid crop injury. Rotational crops which may be planted
include soybeans or sunflowers anytime; wheat, barley, or rye after 4
months; field corn after 10 months; alfalfa and oats after 12 months;
and popcorn, sweet corn, and sorghum (for rates above 8 oz/A) after 18
months. See label for rotation guidelines with other crops.
Table 2. (continued)
Spartan Charge
10.2 to 15.2 fl.oz/A
(carfentrazone 0.028 to 0.042 lb
+ sulfentrazone 0.25 to 0.38 lb ai/A)
Weeds Controlled
Black nightshade,
morningglories, pigweeds,
prickly sida, purslane,
At Transplanting—Soil-Applied Herbicides
Command 3ME
2.0-2.67 pt/A
broadleaf signalgrass,
(clomazone 0.75-1.0 lb ai/A)
crabgrass, fall panicum,
foxtails, jimsonweed,
lambsquarters, prickly
sida, purslane, common
ragweed, velvetleaf
Remarks and Limitations
Use the higher rate of SPARTAN CHARGE when weed pressure is heavy
with morningglory or yellow nutsedge. Apply from 14 days before up
to 12 hours prior to transplanting tobacco as a soil surface treatment
or preplant incorporated (less than 2 inches deep). Perform all cultural
practices for land preparation, fertilizer/fungicide incorporation, etc.
prior to application of SPARTAN CHARGE. If the soil must be worked
after application but prior to transplanting, do not disturb the soil
to a depth greater than 2 inches. Temporary stunting or yellowing
of tobacco and localized leaf burns may be observed under some
conditions with this treatment. Unacceptable crop injury can occur if
applied post-transplant. Rotational crops that may be planted include
soybeans or sunflowers anytime; field corn, wheat, barley, or rye after
4 months; alfalfa, popcorn, sweet corn, and oats after 12 months; and
sorghum (for rates above 10.2 fl.oz/A) after 18 months. See label for
rotation guidelines with other crops.
Apply COMMAND 3ME as a soil-applied treatment over-the-top of
tobacco plants immediately or up to 7 days after transplanting but
prior to emergence of weeds. Off-site movement of spray drift or
vapors of COMMAND can cause foliar whitening or yellowing of nearby
sensitive plants. Consult label for spray drift precautions and required
setbacks when applied near sensitive crops and other plants. Tobacco
plants growing under stressed conditions (cold/wet weather) may
show temporary symptoms of whitening or yellowing. COMMAND may
be tank-mixed with other herbicides registered for use in tobacco to
broaden the weed control spectrum or with other tobacco pesticides.
Cover crops may be planted anytime, but foliar whitening, yellowing,
and/or stand reductions may occur in some areas. Do not graze or
harvest for food or feed cover crops planted less than 9 months after
treatment. When COMMAND 3ME is applied alone, rotational crops
that may be planted include soybeans, peppers, or pumpkins anytime;
field corn, popcorn, sorghum, cucurbits, or tomatoes (transplanted)
after 9 months; sweet corn, cabbage, or wheat after 12 months; and
barley, alfalfa, or forage grasses after 16 months following application.
See label for rotation guidelines for other crops and when tank-mixed
with other herbicides.
Devrinol 50DF 2-4 lb/A
Barnyardgrass, broadleaf
May be applied over the top of transplants. Apply to a weed-free soil
signalgrass, crabgrass, fall surface immediately after transplanting. If rainfall does not occur
Devrinol DF-XT 2-4 lb/A
panicum, foxtails, purslane within 5 days after application, the treatment must be shallowly
incorporated or irrigated-in. DEVRINOL may also be applied as a
Devrinol 2-XT 2-4 qt/A
directed layby application to the row middles. (Consult label). Small
(napropamide 1-2 lb ai/A)
grains may be seeded in rotation in the fall to prevent soil erosion, but
may be stunted. Small grains used as rotation crops must be plowed
For use in Kentucky, Maryland,
under or otherwise destroyed. To avoid injury to other crops not
Virginia and Southeast Region only
specified on the label, do not plant rotational crops until 12 months
after the last DEVRINOL application.
After Transplanting—Postemergence Herbicides
Poast 1.5E
Barnyardgrass, broadleaf
POAST herbicide provides selective postemergence control of annual
1.5 pt/A
signalgrass, crabgrass,
and perennial grasses. Apply any time from transplanting up to 7
(sethoxydim 0.28 lb ai/A)
fall panicum, foxtails,
weeks after transplanting tobacco, but avoid applications within 42
+ oil concentrate 2 pt/A
days of harvest. For adequate control, ensure good spray coverage
using a spray volume from 5 to 20 GPA (gallons per acre). Do not
cultivate within 5 days before or 7days after applying POAST. For
rhizome Johnsongrass, more than one application may be needed.
Make the first application of POAST (1.5 pt/A) when johnsongrass
plants are 20 to 25 inches, followed by a second application of POAST
(1 pt/A) when regrowth is 12 inches. A maximum of 4 pt/A of POAST
can be applied per season to tobacco. As a spot treatment, prepare a
1% to 1.5% solution (1.3 oz/gal to 2 oz/gal) of POAST plus a 1% solution
of Oil Concentrate (1.3 oz/A) and apply to the grass foliage on a sprayto-wet basis. Do not apply more than 4 pt/A per season to tobacco,
including POAST applied to seedbeds.
Disease Management
Chuck Johnson, Steve Bost, and Mina Mila
Management of Diseases in the Field
and less susceptible when aphid populations begin to increase.
However, early plantings may suffer from black root rot when a
susceptible variety is planted. On the other hand, planting later
to avoid early season thrips activity may reduce losses to tomato
spotted wilt.
Rotate with non-related crops. Crop rotation is a highly effective
tool for preventing and managing diseases, particularly those
caused by soilborne pathogens (including nematodes) or that
result from carry-over in crop debris. Regular rotation away
from tobacco and related crops deprives pathogens of their
preferred source of food, slowing their buildup or causing their
numbers to decline over time. The effectiveness of rotation
improves as the length of time away from tobacco is increased.
Three to five years out of tobacco after a one- to two-year period
in tobacco should provide good control of soilborne diseases
for most growers. Do not follow tobacco with tobacco if black
shank, black root rot, or Fusarium wilt are observed in a field.
Although less than ideal, short rotational intervals can reduce
disease pressure in fields after a serious disease outbreak; however, longer intervals between susceptible crops, as discussed
earlier, are more effective. Unfortunately, crop rotation is not
effective against all diseases. Diseases caused by pathogens that
don’t overwinter in soil or on plant debris, such as blue mold,
are not affected by crop rotation.
Select and prepare sites properly. Do not set plants into saturated soils or in areas that tend to accumulate water. Choose a site
that is well drained to avoid soil saturation and problems with
black shank. Install ditches or drain tiles if needed to promote
good soil drainage. Select sites that are not excessively shaded
and have good air movement in order to suppress diseases such
as target spot and blue mold. Do not plant tobacco adjacent to
areas where vegetables are produced, as many vegetable crops
(especially tomatoes and peppers) can harbor viruses that can
move into tobacco by insect vectors. By the same token, don’t
plant tomatoes or peppers in tobacco fields.
Exclude plant pathogens from the field. Keep plant pathogens out
of “clean” fields by sanitizing equipment and shoes, and by limiting animals’ access to fields, especially if you share equipment
or farm in several different areas. This practice can help reduce
the introduction and spread of pathogens that cause black shank
and Fusarium wilt. To avoid introduction of pathogens, don’t
discard stalks from fields with black shank and other diseases
in clean fields or near sources of surface water (streams, ponds,
etc). Use transplants produced in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia,
or North Carolina, or north of that region. Plants produced
south of that region may have been exposed to blue mold at
their source, and their importation into the region could start
an outbreak early in the season.
Plow cover crops early. This practice will ensure that plant
matter decomposes thoroughly before setting time. Sore shin
and black root rot can be problems in fields with high levels of
partially decomposed organic matter. Heavily manured fields
may have higher severity of black root rot. Turn tobacco roots
and stubble under soon after harvest to promote decomposition
and a more rapid decline of soilborne pathogens.
Tobacco diseases are responsible for lost revenue to growers
each year as a result of reduced yield and leaf quality. Actual
losses vary from year to year and farm to farm, depending upon
the weather and diseases present. Tobacco is threatened by
disease from seeding until harvest (and even during the curing
process). As with transplant diseases, discussed earlier in this
guide, the key to success in controlling diseases during field
production is prevention. In almost every case, it is far easier
to prevent disease than to stop it after an epidemic has gained
momentum. And even if an outbreak of disease is brought under
control through some type of rescue treatment (of which few
are available for tobacco), yield losses can occur and quality of
the crop can be affected. Quality is especially important for dark
tobacco, due to the low tolerance of manufacturers for leaf spots
and other disease-related damage.
Implementing a preventive disease management program
means that control measures have to be carried out or in place
before disease appears, which requires planning ahead. Field
selection and choosing varieties and fungicides are decisions
that should be made well in advance of seeding transplants to
ensure availability of land, seed, and chemicals. Choosing the
practices to be implemented requires knowledge of field history
(previous crops, prevalent diseases, field characteristics) and
an awareness of the diseases that affect tobacco. Following are
recommended practices and tips for managing tobacco diseases
in the field.
General Considerations
Take full advantage of resources to monitor and manage disease. During the growing season, check crops regularly for signs
and symptoms of disease. Where preventive programs aren’t in
place, best control of diseases will be achieved if action is taken
early in an outbreak. Correct diagnosis of diseases is the first
step in bringing these problems under control. If the cause of a
problem is in doubt, local Extension agents should be consulted.
Your agent can help get a correct diagnosis through a plant
diagnostic laboratory. Tobacco-related extension publications
are available at your county Extension office. You can also access
information online that can help with identification of disease
problems. Websites provided by the University of Tennessee
( feature up-to-date information on
tobacco diseases and recommended controls as well as advisories on current disease problems (such as blue mold).
Avoid areas with histories of severe disease problems. One of the
best ways to keep a particular disease from affecting a crop is
to not plant tobacco in areas where problems have occurred in
the past. This practice can be an effective way to manage black
shank, Fusarium wilt, and black root rot. Locating fields away
from areas with large, unmanaged populations of weeds can
help minimize problems with a number of insect-transmitted
plant viruses, such as alfalfa mosaic and tomato spotted wilt.
In areas with a history of problems with aphid-transmitted
viruses, planting tobacco early will ensure that the crop is older
Manage soil fertility and pH. Keep soil pH within recommended
ranges during the growing season. Do not over fertilize, as it
favors development of blue mold and black root rot; however,
low nitrogen levels can contribute to severe outbreaks of target
spot, so be sure to use recommended amounts of nitrogen fertilizers for optimal crop production.
Go to the field with healthy transplants. Don’t set plants with
severe Pythium root rot or other diseases. Diseased plants tend
to take longer to establish and are more likely to be affected
by black shank and sore shin. Do not set plants that have blue
mold—destroy them immediately. Such plants will die, or if
they survive, they will not thrive and will serve as a source of
spores for an outbreak in surrounding fields. Avoid tobacco use
(smoking or chewing) during setting to prevent the transmission
of tobacco mosaic virus.
Plant disease-resistant varieties. Select varieties with resistance to the diseases that you anticipate to be a problem. Using
resistant varieties is one of the least expensive management
practices—the cost is built into the price of the seed. Burley
varieties are available with good resistance to diseases such as
black shank, blue mold, Fusarium wilt, virus complex, tobacco
mosaic, and black root rot. (See sections on selection of burley
and dark tobacco varieties.) Look at the entire resistance “package” when choosing a variety, as levels of resistance to individual
diseases can vary and may not be appropriate for some fields.
For example, NC 2002 has good resistance to blue mold but no
resistance to black shank and would be a poor choice to plant
in areas where black shank has been a problem. Varieties such
as KT 206 and KT 209 are great choices for black shank fields
but are completely susceptible to Fusarium wilt.
Correctly use fungicides. Timely and accurate application of
fungicides is essential for best performance. The following are
some general guidelines for successful use of fungicides to manage tobacco diseases:
• Do not use products that are not approved for tobacco. By the same
token, don’t use tobacco-approved products in ways that are
not outlined on the products’ labels (Table 1). Pay attention
to safety precautions, and observe guidelines for resistance
• Apply fungicides preventively or at the latest when first symptoms
of disease appear. Most products labeled for tobacco are protectants and in order to suppress infection must be in place
before the arrival of the pathogen. Applications made after a
disease has become established will take longer to bring the
epidemic under control or, worse, may not be successful at all.
Maintain recommended application intervals while disease
threatens or the weather favors disease. Applying fungicides
with a specific mode of action (such as Quadris or Forum)
when high levels of disease are present could lead to the
development of resistance in certain plant pathogens—yet
another reason to think preventively when using fungicides.
• Use an application volume that gives the best coverage of plants.
For most fungicides, this amount will change as the crop
grows. In general, use 20 gallons per acre near transplanting,
increasing to 40 gallons per acre when plants are knee-high,
60 gallons per acre when plants are waist-high, 80 gallons per
acre when plants are chest-high, and as much as 100 gallons
per acre for applications made at topping or afterward. Spray
pressure should be between 40 and 100 psi and use hollowcone nozzles for best effect. As the crop grows, configure
sprayers, if possible, with one nozzle centered over the row
and multiple nozzles on drop extensions to allow for good
coverage in the middle and lower canopies.
• Calibrate sprayers for accurate delivery. This practice will ensure
that the crop receives neither too little fungicide (poor disease control) nor too much (extra cost and potential injury).
Clean nozzles regularly and change them as they become
worn. Nozzle replacement is an extra expense that will pay
for itself in the long run. When purchasing nozzles, consider
ceramic or stainless-steel tips. These types of nozzles are
more expensive than their brass counterparts but are more
durable and less prone to wear.
Harvest in a timely manner and correctly manage barns. Overmature tobacco is more prone to leaf-spotting diseases such as
brown spot. Manage humidity levels in barns to avoid houseburn and barn rots.
Common Diseases and Their Management
Angular leaf spot and wildfire. These bacterial diseases are occasionally important and do not cause significant losses in most
years. Crop rotation and good sanitation practices can be useful
in suppression of angular leaf spot and wildfire. The majority
of burley varieties are resistant to wildfire but not angular leaf
spot. Many dark varieties are very susceptible to angular leaf
spot. Refer to earlier chapters for a listing of dark tobacco
varieties with good resistance to wildfire. Use of chemicals to
manage these diseases is rarely necessary; however, agricultural
streptomycin (Table 1) can be applied preventively at 100 ppm
(8 oz/100 gal) or after symptoms first appear at 200 ppm (16
oz/100 gal). Continue applications while conditions favor disease development (typically warm and wet weather).
Black shank. Black shank is by far the most important disease
of burley and dark tobacco. Use good sanitation practices to
prevent introduction and spread of the pathogen. Once introduced into a field, the black shank pathogen (Phytophthora
nicotianae) can never be completely eradicated. Crop rotation
is a key consideration in both prevention and management of
black shank. Simply put, there’s no better tool for managing
black shank. The black shank pathogen survives and reproduces
mainly on tobacco, so continuous planting of tobacco will lead
to increased populations over time. Rotation slows the buildup
of P. nicotianae and other pathogens in the field by depriving
them of their preferred host. Rotation away from tobacco for
even a year will significantly reduce disease; however, rotations
of three to five years have the greatest impact on black shank. A
number of crops serve as good rotation partners with tobacco.
Legumes and vegetables may promote the buildup of other
soilborne pathogens responsible for diseases like black root rot.
Field location is an important consideration for managing
black shank. Fields with relatively high soil pH levels have been
associated with increased disease. Avoid planting in fields that
are down slope from areas that have had black shank in the past
or those that could receive runoff from infested fields. Steps
should be taken to minimize soil saturation, since these conditions favor infection by P. nicotianae. Eliminate areas in fields
were water stands, or install tiles to improve drainage. Keep in
Table 1. Guide to chemicals available for control of tobacco diseases in the field, 2015—foliar applications
Agri-Mycin 17,
Product Rate Per
100-200 ppm
no limit
(4-8 oz/50 gal
Label Notes
Use low rate for prevention and higher rate when disease is first
angular leaf- observed or in areas with a history of angular leaf-spot.
spot, blue mold
Begin applications when plants are >18 inchesc in height.
Actigard must be applied 4-5 days prior to infection to allow for
activation of plant defense compounds. Do not apply to plants
that are stressed from drought or other environmental factors.
Make up to 3 applications on a 10-day schedule. Apply in a
minimum of 20 gal/A.
1.5-2 lb
no limit
blue mold, Some buyers have expressed concern over residues of
anthracnose mancozeb on tobacco. Consequently, use this product only
as needed— as a tank-mix with Forum or in alternation with
Penncozeb DF)
Quadris. Only Manzate ProStick is labeled in most burley states,
while only Penncozeb DF is labeled in VA.
Aliette WDG
2.5-4 lb
20 lb
blue mold
Make first application immediately after transplanting; continue
on a 7-10 day schedule. Use a minimum spray volume of 20
gal/A; increase by 20 gal/A weekly to a maximum of 100 gal/A.
2-8 fl oz
30 fl oz
blue mold
Increase rate and application volume (20-100 gal/A) as crop
size increases. According to the product label, Forum must
be tank-mixed with a product registered for control of blue
mold, such as mancozeb, for resistance management. Neither
Ridomil Gold, Ultra Flourish, MetaStar, Revus, nor Actigard are
recommended as tank-mix partners for Forum. Do not mix with
surfactants, foliar fertilizers, or sucker control materials.
6-12 fl oz
32 fl oz
target spot, Begin applications before blue mold symptoms appear. For
frogeye, blue blue mold, continue sprays on a 7-14 day schedule (use the
shorter spray interval when conditions favor disease). If blue
mold is present in the field, apply Forum, tank-mixed with a
mancozeb fungicide, prior to using Quadris. Do not make backto-back sprays, but alternate with a different fungicide labeled
for tobacco. Can be used up to the day of harvest; however,
minimize post-topping application, as fungicide residues
are a significant industry concern. Do not mix with EC-type
pesticides or with sucker control materials.
Revus 2.08SC
8 fl oz
32 fl oz
blue mold
Begin applications before blue mold symptoms appear.
Continue on a 7-10 day schedule. Make no more than two
consecutive sprays before switching to a fungicide with
a different mode of action (do not alternate with Forum).
Addition of a surfactant (spreader/penetrator or non-ionic) may
enhance activity.
a Rate range of product PER ACRE. In general, use the highest labeled rates when disease pressure is high. Refer to product label for
application information, restrictions, and warnings.
b Preharvest interval.
c Actigard can be applied to dark tobacco varieties at the 12-inch stage.
0.5 oz
1.5 oz
(3 apps.)
blue mold
mind that, if irrigating, water from ponds, rivers, or creeks could
be contaminated with the black shank pathogen, and using
water from these sources could result in severe problems with
black shank in the future.
Using a resistant variety is an excellent tool for managing
black shank, and choosing the right variety is one of the most
important management decisions a grower will make. Resistant varieties and good management practices (good rotation,
fungicides) employed together offer the best possible control
of this disease. Black shank can be caused by several races of
P. nicotianae, but now black shank is almost always caused
by either race 1 or race 0. Race 0 was the predominant strain
present in most burley tobacco fields until extensive use of “L8”
hybrids led to many areas having a mixture of race 0 and race
1. Burley tobacco cultivars KT 206LC, KT 209LC, KT 210LC,
KT212LC, NC7 LC, HB 3307PLC, and HB 4478PLC and dark
tobacco cultivars PD 7302, PD 7309, and PD7318 possess a
source of black shank resistance (the Ph gene) similar to L8,
and widespread planting of these cultivars has resulted in race
1 predominating in fields where these cultivars have been used.
Field history, in terms of crops and varieties grown and previous severity of black shank, should be considered when deciding
on a variety to grow. Planting a variety with little or no resistance
(0-3 on the rating scale) may be, but is not always, “safe” in fields
with no history of disease or where very good rotation has been
practiced. KT 206LC, KT 209LC, , KT 210LC, KT212LC, NC7
LC, HB 3307PLC, and HB4478PLC and PD 7302, PD 7309, and
PD7318 possess “near immunity” (black shank resistance rating
of 10 in tables in the Selecting Burley Tobacco Varieties and
Choosing Dark Tobacco Varieties sections of this guide) to race
0, causing them to favor rapid increase of race 1 to potentially
damaging levels. Because of this trend, fields with a history of
black shank and/or a short crop rotation interval should be
planted with cultivars possessing moderate to high resistance
to race 1 (4-8 on the rating scale). These cultivars always also
possess resistance to race 0 that is at least as high, or higher, than
that to race 1. The safest bet for growers is to also supplement
use of black shank resistance with use of a black shank fungicide.
Common burley varieties and their resistance ratings to black
shank can be found in Selecting Burley Tobacco Varieties. Refer to Choosing Dark Tobacco Varieties for a list of commonly
grown dark varieties and their levels of black shank resistance.
For chemical control of black shank, use products containing mefenoxam (Ridomil Gold, Ultra Flourish) or metalaxyl
(MetaStar) (Table 2) in conjunction with resistant varieties (4
or greater on the rating scale) and crop rotation. These products
cannot be used for black shank control in Pennsylvania. In most
cases, fungicides will not provide acceptable control of black
shank if applied to varieties with little or no resistance. Good
soil moisture is needed for best performance of these products
because root uptake is required for them to be effective. Where
black shank has been severe, apply a fungicide no more than
seven days before planting at the rates found in Table 2. Use a
volume of water or fertilizer sufficient for good soil coverage
and incorporate into the top 2 to 4 inches of soil by disking or
The Ridomil Gold and Ultra Flourish labels allow the initial
application after planting. Such an application, which should
occur as soon as possible after transplanting, has the advantage
of concentrating the chemical in a band. However, its success
depends on adequate soil moisture; irrigation or rainfall may
be needed for activation when soils are dry. Another approved
method for the initial application of Ridomil Gold is the transplant water method. Ridomil Gold is labeled at 4 to 8 fluid
ounces per acre and should be applied in at least 200 gallons of
transplant water per acre to avoid damage to plants.
For full-season control of black shank, supplemental applications of Ridomil Gold (1 pt), Ultra Flourish (2 pt), or MetaStar
(2 qt) can be made at layby or at first cultivation and again at
layby. The MetaStar label prohibits post-plant applications when
more than 2 quarts of MetaStar was used prior to planting, or
if none was used. Applications of these black shank fungicides
should total no more than 3 pints per acre for Ridomil Gold, 6
pints per acre for Ultra Flourish, or 6 quarts per acre for MetaStar. These applications should be directed toward the soil and
incorporated immediately by cultivation. Do not apply these
products over the top later in the season, since any chemical
intercepted by tobacco leaves will not be taken up by the roots,
thereby reducing the effectiveness of the treatment. Some soil
fumigants are labelled for black shank control but are intended
to supplement early fungicide applications for black shank and
to broaden control to include other soilborne pathogens (when
Black root rot. Once one of the most destructive diseases of
burley tobacco, black root rot is now only a sporadic problem.
Resistance to black root rot in many burley varieties has reduced
the importance of this disease in recent years; however, dark
varieties generally lack resistance to black root rot. Despite the
decreased importance of black root rot, Thielaviopsis basicola
is present in soils in many parts of the region and could pose
problems to producers who do not rotate routinely or plant
varieties with little or no resistance to this disease.
Use good sanitary practices to avoid introduction of T. basicola. Once introduced into a field, the black root rot pathogen
can persist in soil for a number of years. This disease can be managed successfully through an integrated approach that includes
crop rotation and resistant varieties. Do not follow leguminous
crops (snap beans, soybeans, clover, alfalfa) with tobacco. Byproducts from decomposition of rye and barley residues are
also believed to increase the susceptibility of tobacco to the
black root rot fungus, making these crops a risky choice for
cover crops in areas with a history of the disease. Avoid planting
in cool soils and excessive use of lime (keep soil pH between
6.0 and 6.4 on burley). Black root rot can be aggravated by
high amounts of undecomposed organic matter. Incorporate
manure and cover crops early in the spring to permit as much
decomposition as possible before transplanting. Soil fumigants
are labeled for suppression of black root rot, but their use may
not be economically practical in most situations.
Blue mold. Blue mold has caused serious losses in years when
cool and rainy conditions have prevailed, particularly early in
the season. The blue mold pathogen, Peronospora tabacina, does
not overwinter normally in traditional burley growing areas and
requires a living host to survive. When tobacco is killed by frosts
or freezes in late fall, surviving P. tabacina is eliminated as well.
Epidemics of blue mold normally begin from introductions of
P. tabacina from outside areas where P. tabacina is present yearround. In rare cases, the blue mold pathogen may overwinter
in burley regions on tobacco in protected environments (old
float beds or greenhouses), which is a key reason to ensure that
unused tobacco is destroyed after transplanting in the spring.
Management of blue mold should begin with the use of
disease-free transplants; avoid transplants produced south of
Tennessee. If planting into areas that are prone to blue mold,
select a variety with partial resistance (see Selecting Burley
Tobacco Varieties and Choosing Dark Tobacco Varieties sections of this guide). Two varieties, NC 2000 and NC 2002, have
moderate-to-high resistance to blue mold, while KT 206 and
TN 90 have low-to-moderate resistance. Be mindful that some
of these varieties may not be resistant to other diseases that may
be encountered.
Chemicals registered for control of blue mold are listed in
Table 1. Fungicides are good, but not perfect, tools for managing
blue mold if used properly. Begin fungicide applications for blue
mold control when the disease is forecasted to threaten your
area or has been found nearby. Contact your county Extension
agent for disease advisories. Once blue mold has been reported
or threatens an area, fungicides should be applied at regular
intervals as long as conditions favor development of the disease.
Quadris is labeled for control of blue mold, frogeye, and
target spot. While not as effective against blue mold as Forum
plus a mancozeb fungicide, our results indicate that Quadris
provides consistent and effective control of blue mold if applied
regularly on a preventive basis. Keep in mind that Quadris is a
protectant fungicide and has limited systemic activity. Do not
make Quadris the first fungicide application when blue mold is
found in a field. Applications of this product should begin before
symptoms are observed in the field, when blue mold threatens.
Table 2. Guide to fungicides available for control of black shank. Do not use for black shank control in Pennsylvania
Gold SL
MetaStar 2E
3 pt
6 pt
12 pt
Pre-plant or at-planting applications
Rate/A* Remarks
Pre-plant only
1-2 pt Apply to soil within 1
week be-fore planting and
incorporate into the top 2-4
inches of soil.
Pre-plant +
1 pt
Apply to soil within 1
week be-fore planting and
incorporate into the top 2-4
inches of soil.
water + postplant
Pre-plant only
Вј-ВЅ pt
Pre-plant +
2 pt
Pre-plant only
8-12 pt
Pre-plant +
4 pt
2-4 pt
Apply in no less than 200
gal-lons of transplant water
per acre.
Apply to soil within 1
week be-fore planting and
incorporate into the top 2-4
inches of soil.
Apply to soil within 1
week be-fore planting and
incorporate into the top 2-4
inches of soil.
Apply to soil just prior to
plant-ing and incorporate
into the top 2-4 inches of soil.
Apply to soil just prior to
plant-ing and incorporate
into the top 2-4 inches of soil.
Post-plant applications
Rate/A* Remarks
1 pt
1 pt
2 pt
Make 1st application as near as possible to transplanting if no pre-plant
application was made or if black
shank is expected early in the sea-son.
Otherwise, make application(s) at layby
or at 1st cultivation and layby.
Make subsequent application(s) at 1st
cultivation and/or layby.
Make 1st application as near as possible to transplanting if no pre-plant
application was made or if black
shank is expected early in the sea-son.
Otherwise, make application(s) at layby
or at 1st cultivation and layby.
Do not make a post-plant applica-tion
of MetaStar if more than 4 pt was used
pre-plant or if none was used pre-plant.
Post-plant applica-tion(s) may be made
at layby or at 1st cultivation and layby.
* Rate range of product. In general, use the highest labeled rates when disease pressure is high. Refer to product label for applica-tion
information, restrictions, and warnings.
If blue mold is present in a field, apply Forum tank-mixed with
a mancozeb fungicide, and follow with Quadris seven to 10
days later. Make sure to not make back-to-back applications of
Quadris; rotate to another fungicide or program (mancozeb
product or Forum plus a mancozeb product) after each application of Quadris. Good coverage is critical to getting good
disease control with this product—the use of drop nozzles is
recommended. Quadris can be applied up to the day of harvest,
making this fungicide a good option for post-topping control
of other leaf-spotting diseases. In certain cases, injury in the
form of flecking has been associated with the use of Quadris on
tobacco and has been severe; however, significant loss of yield
or quality is extremely rare. Damage from Quadris is more likely
when applied as a tank-mix. Severe damage can occur when it
is mixed with sucker control materials or EC pesticides.
Other options for blue mold control include Forum, Revus,
mancozeb, Aliette WDG, and Actigard. Forum is a liquid
formulation of dimethomorph, the same active ingredient
found in Acrobat 50WP, a product no longer on the market.
According to the Forum label, these products must be tankmixed with another blue mold fungicide for management of
resistance; mancozeb works well in this role. As with Quadris,
good coverage is very important to get best results with Forum,
and the application volume and rate must be increased as the
crop increases in size (Table 1). Revus is a new product from
Syngenta that is labeled only for control of blue mold. Resistance
4 pt
management is an important consideration with Revus. Growers must not make more than two consecutive applications of
Revus before switching to a fungicide with a different mode
of action (mancozeb or Quadris are good choices). Revus and
Forum have the same mode of action and should never be tankmixed together or sprayed in rotation with each other.
Actigard remains one of our best options for blue mold control. It is a systemic product that functions by inducing plant
defenses and, thus is not a true fungicide. Coverage is not as
critical with Actigard as with other fungicides, so this product
may be applied with standard broadcast-type equipment and
will still give good control of blue mold. Activation of host defenses takes several days for full protection, so Actigard should
be applied four to five days before tobacco is exposed to the blue
mold pathogen. If infection threatens before the four-to-five-day
activation period, Actigard can be tank-mixed with another
fungicide to protect plants during this critical time. A second application made 10 days after the first has been shown to provide
good protection against blue mold up to topping time. Do not
apply Actigard to burley tobacco until plants are greater than 18
inches tall (12 inches for dark tobacco) to avoid serious injury. If
blue mold threatens tobacco less than the recommended height,
use another fungicide to protect until Actigard can be applied.
Do not apply Actigard if plants are stressed from drought or
other environmental factors, as severe injury could occur.
Aliette has been available for several years on tobacco and is
labeled only for blue mold. The first application of Aliette should
be made immediately after transplanting, and subsequent sprays
can be made on a seven-to-10-day schedule. Aliette should not
be tank-mixed with copper compounds, surfactants, or foliar
fertilizers, and the pH of the spray solution should not be less
than 6.0. Our experience with Aliette is limited at this time;
however, results from testing in Kentucky suggest that this
product does not suppress blue mold as effectively as other
labeled options.
Ridomil Gold, Ultra Flourish, and MetaStar are labeled for
control of blue mold but should not be relied upon to manage
this disease. Resistance to mefenoxam (Ridomil Gold, Ultra
Flourish) or metalaxyl (MetaStar) is widespread in populations
of the blue mold pathogen, making these products a risky choice.
Brown spot and ragged leaf spot. These diseases tend to be
problematic on burley and dark tobacco later in the season but
rarely cause economic losses. Proper rotation, deep-turning of
crop residues, wider plant spacing, and timely harvesting can
help prevent problems with brown spot and ragged leaf spot. In
burley, some varieties are reported to have partial resistance to
brown spot (KY 14Г—L8, NC 7). A fungicide program that contains mancozeb and Quadris should provide some suppression
of these diseases.
Frogeye leaf spot. Frogeye, caused by Cercospora nicotianae,
is a common leaf spot that only occasionally causes significant
problems. Leaf loss can be severe in rainy seasons, and quality
losses can occur from green spots that appear during curing
as the result of late infections. Even light cases of frogeye can
cause considerable reduction in value of dark tobacco, where
leaf quality is of paramount importance.
Target spot. Caused by Thanatephorus cucumeris, target spot
has become increasingly prevalent, and yield losses of 50 percent
or more have been observed in some areas. High humidity and
moderate temperatures favor this disease, making target spot
a serious problem in fields that are shaded or have poor air
drainage. Target spot tends to worsen as the crop grows. When
the row middles close, significant shading occurs in the lower
canopy and humidity increases, favoring development of target
Cultural practices recommended for management of brown
spot will also help control target spot and frogeye. In addition,
do not under-fertilize or over-fertilize tobacco. Low nitrogen
fertility can predispose tobacco to infection by the target spot
pathogen, as can the presence of lush growth brought on by
excessive nitrogen.
Quadris is the only labeled option for management of frogeye
and target spot (Table 1). However, Quadris cannot be applied
back-to-back—unrelated fungicides must be applied between
Quadris applications. Although mancozeb fungicides are only
slightly effective against frogeye and target spot, they are the
only choice for this purpose at this time. Rates and timing of
Quadris applications depend on many factors, such as the level
of leaf spot control desired, field history, rainfall, and the type
of tobacco grown. Generally, a rate of 8 fluid ounces per acre
provides adequate control of fungal spots while minimizing the
severity of flecking caused by Quadris. A 10- to 14-day schedule
may be needed during rainy periods. A Quadris program should
be started early for most effective control of the leaf spots. The
degree of control needed depends on the expected disease severity (crop rotation history, degree of air drainage for the site)
and on your tolerance level for leaf spots. For frogeye control,
Tennessee research has indicated a need to begin as early as two
to three weeks after planting. For target spot control, Kentucky
research has shown that the spray program can be delayed until
plants are 24 to 36 inches tall. Although the leaf spots cause most
of their damage after topping, early fungicide applications will
minimize late-season damage by suppressing the buildup of the
Fusarium wilt. Caused by Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. nicotianae,
this soilborne disease can severely impact tobacco, particularly
in fields with a history of disease or poor rotations. Warm conditions favor development of Fusarium wilt, and severity of disease
can be aggravated by drought. Good management practices
can help stave off losses to Fusarium wilt. Sanitation can help
prevent introduction of the pathogen into “clean” fields. Crop
rotation is equally important as a preventive measure. Avoid
planting tobacco behind sweet potato, cotton, or any other crop
that we already know has significant susceptibility to Fusarium.
For some, avoidance of fields with a history of severe Fusarium
wilt may be the best plan if at all possible. Certain varieties of
burley tobacco have moderate resistance to Fusarium wilt,
including KY 14Г—L8 and NC 7. Unfortunately, many of the
varieties that are most effective against black shank (such as KT
204, KT 206, and KT 209) are extremely susceptible to Fusarium
wilt. When dealing with both black shank and Fusarium wilt in
the same field, KT 210 (a new variety with good resistance to
black shank plus moderate resistance to Fusarium wilt) should
be planted.
Hollow stalk. This disease is caused by the same bacterium,
Erwinia carotovora subsp. carotovora, that causes black leg or
bacterial soft rot on transplants, and is typically found after
topping. Warm and humid conditions favor development of
hollow stalk. To reduce incidence of this disease, ensure that
crops are not over fertilized. Minimize mechanical and chemical
wounding during topping and sucker control operations, and
don’t top during rainy or overcast conditions or if plants are
wet. Growers should consider cutting tops at an angle to reduce
water retention, reducing the potential for infection. Chemical
control of hollow stalk is not possible.
Virus diseases. Diseases caused by viruses are common in
Kentucky, and their severity depends upon the year and the
varieties being grown. Chemical control of virus diseases is not
possible. Planting a resistant variety is the most effective practice
for prevention of certain virus diseases of tobacco (see Selecting
Burley Tobacco Varieties and Choosing Dark Tobacco Varieties
sections of this guide). Control of insect vectors gives variable
(and unpredictable) levels of control of aphid-transmitted
viruses or tomato spotted wilt virus (thrips). Weed control in
and around fields can be helpful, as weeds serve as reservoirs
of certain diseases; don’t plant tobacco near vegetables for the
same reason. Tobacco surrounded by, or planted adjacent to,
corn, soybeans, or other small grains will have fewer problems
with aphid-transmitted diseases, as the insects “lose” the virus
as they feed on these crops before moving onto tobacco.
Chemicals for Disease Control
Tables 1 and 2 list labeled chemicals for use in the production
of burley and dark tobacco as of December 2014. As always, read
all product labels carefully and follow all directions provided
by the manufacturers. Each product has specific use directions
that should be followed to minimize the risk of damage to the
crop and to maximize the effectiveness of the product. Information provided in the tables is meant to serve as a general set
of guidelines to aid in product selection but is not intended to
replace product labels.
Several fumigants are registered for use on tobacco for
preplant suppression of soilborne pathogens and nematodes.
Nematodes are rarely a serious problem in burley tobacco fields.
Chloropicrin used as a preplant soil treatment will reduce early
populations of P. nicotianae, Rhizoctonia, Fusarium, Pythium,
and Thielaviopsis, but the level of control to be expected is
uncertain. Soil fumigants are hazardous, expensive, must be
applied with specialized equipment, and will probably not be
an economically viable choice for most producers.
Insect Pest Management
Lee Townsend
nsect pests can attack tobacco from transplant through harvest. Hornworms and budworms reduce yields by feeding
directly on plant leaves. Aphids cause indirect losses; their sap
feeding reduces plant vigor and growth, and they may introduce
and spread viruses in the crop. Tobacco insect pests are active at
predictable times during the growing season (Table 1). Timely
field checks and use of treatment guidelines will allow early
detection and assessment of problems, so sound pest management decisions can be made.
Refer to the tables in this section for insecticides recommended for control of important pests of tobacco. A list of
generic alternatives for some insecticides can be found in Appendix II, along with key safety information for different classes
of insecticides.
acephate), and a new product, Coragen (Table 4). Coragen
is labeled for worm control only. When applied in transplant
water, this product will provide residual control of hornworms
and budworms. The length of control depends on the amount
of product applied and the volume of transplant water used. A
minimum of 100 gallons per acre is recommended to ensure
adequate distribution of pesticide solution in the root zone, and
control will be improved with higher volumes of water used.
With all transplant water treatments, it is important to ensure
that the solution is evenly distributed for effective insect control.
For application equipment that has minimal agitation, such as
tobacco transplanters, give proper attention to mixing. Keep
the water suspension agitated or mix regularly to avoid settling
in the transplant tank. Adverse growing conditions may cause
a delay in the uptake of Admire (or a generic equivalent) into
the plants and cause a delay in control.
Premix Orthene 97 (or a generic equivalent) in water to
form a slurry before putting it into the transplant water tank.
If premixing is not done, allow time for the product to dissolve.
Use of more than the label rate may result in some plant damage.
Orthene 97 has a 2ee label for a transplant water tank-mix with
Admire. See the label for more information.
Soil Applications
The soil insecticides Brigade, Capture, Lorsban (and generic
versions) can be used for cutworm or wireworm control (Table
2). They should be applied one to two weeks before transplant
and immediately disked into the top 2 to 4 inches of soil. A soil
insecticide should be used when going into established sod
fields because of the potential for wireworm damage.
Foliar Treatments for Tobacco Fields
Tray Drench Applications
Admire Pro 4F (and generic versions that contain the active
ingredient imidacloprid) and Platinum are systemic insecticides
that are labeled for application as a drench to float trays or flats
prior to transplant. Most rates are expressed as fluid ounces
per 1,000 plants (Table 3). Agitate or mix the insecticide frequently to keep it from settling in the tank. The plants should
be watered from above after application to wash the insecticide
from the foliage into the potting soilless media. Failure to wash
the insecticide from the foliage may result in reduced control.
Adverse growing conditions may cause a delay in the uptake of
the product into the plants and delay control.
The numbers of tobacco pests per plant or the percentage of
infested plants in a field determines whether a control measure
is justified. Pest numbers can vary due to factors such as weather,
natural enemies, and transplant date. Early set fields are prone to
attack by flea beetles and tobacco budworms, and late-set fields
are at greater risk to tobacco aphids. Careful field monitoring is
necessary to determine whether or not an insecticide application will provide an economic return through yield or quality
The treatment guidelines listed in Table 1 allow proper timing
of insecticide applications. Weekly field scouting is necessary
to collect the information needed to use them. Check at least
100 plants per field—10 groups of 10 or five groups of 20 in
up to 5 acres. Add two locations for each additional 5 acres of
field size. Pick scouting locations randomly. Examine the plants
carefully for damage or live insects. Record the counts, calculate
the average, and compare them to the table values. Keep these
counts so that trends in insect numbers can be spotted easily
during the season.
Setter-Water Applications
Soil-applied insecticides labeled for use in transplant (setter)
water include Admire Pro (or generic equivalents), Orthene
97 (or generic equivalents containing the active ingredient
Table 1. Insect management calendar—treatment guidelines for key tobacco insect pests
Stage of
1-4 weeks after Cutworms
Flea Beetles
3 weeks after
transplant until
Topping until
Treatment Guidelines
Five or more freshly cut plants per 100 plants checked.
Three or more beetles per plant on new transplants, 10 or more beetles on 2-4 week-old plants, 60 or
more beetles on plants more than 4 weeks old.
Colonies of 50 or more aphids on at least one upper leaf of 10% or more of the plants from three weeks
after transplant until topping.
Five or more budworms per 50 plants from three weeks after transplant until one week before topping.
Five or more hornworms (1 inch or longer) per 50 plants from three weeks after transplant until topping.
Do not count hornworms with white cocoons on their backs.
Five or more hornworms (1 inch or longer) per 50 plants. Do not count hornworms with white cocoons
on their backs.
IMPORTANT: Products containing endosulfan (Thiodan,
Phaser, etc.) are no longer recommended because of concerns
about the residues of this insecticide on tobacco. Many products
containing other active ingredients are available and provide
excellent pest control.
Table 2. Pre-transplant soil applications for tobacco fields
Pre-plant Insecticides
Rate/Acre Labeled Pests
Lorsban 4E chlorpyrifos
2 qt
(and generics)
Restricted Use Pesticides
Brigade EC (bifenthrin)
4 to 6.4 fl oz Cutworms, White
Capture LFR
3.4 to 8.5 fl oz grubs, Wireworms
Broadcast and incorporate spray or granules according to label
instructions immediately before transplant.
Major Insect Pests
Tobacco aphid infestations generally begin when winged adults
fly into fields and deposit live young on plants, which happens
about four to six weeks after transplant. Offspring of these “colonizers” mature in seven to 10 days and begin to produce 60 to 70
live young each. Aphid numbers in infested fields double about
every two to three days. Fields not receiving a preventive treatment
at transplant should be checked weekly by examining the bud
area of 10 consecutive plants in at least five locations for colonies
(clusters) of aphids on the underside of leaves. An insecticide application is recommended if colonies of about 50 aphids are found on
10 percent or more of the plants that are examined. Table 5 contains
a list of insecticides and restricted-use pesticides labeled for control
of tobacco aphids. Thorough coverage with sprays directed to the
underside of leaves at the top of the plant is essential to obtain
satisfactory aphid control. Aphid infestations tend to be higher
when topping is delayed and in later-set fields where more than
minimum recommended rates of nitrogen are used.
Budworms chew rounded holes in developing leaves of the
upper third of the plant. Infestations tend to be greatest in the
earliest-set fields in an area. Moths lay single eggs, so infestations are scattered randomly over a field. Examine the bud area
carefully for the black ground pepper–like droppings, small
holes, and caterpillars. Damage will increase as the budworms
feed and grow. If the bud is destroyed, the plant will develop
new terminal growth. Direct leaf damage and stunting can
reduce yields. Examine the buds for feeding damage and the
small green-to-black worms. Treat if there are five or more live
budworms (less than 1.25 inches long) per 50 plants and topping
is at least one week away.
Tobacco plants can compensate for budworm damage, so
follow treatment guidelines to avoid unnecessary treatments.
Do not count the plant as infested if you cannot find a budworm.
Sprays are most effective if applied when larvae are small and
actively feeding. Use 25 to 50 gallons of water per acre and
spray in the morning or early evening when the bud area is
open and the budworms are most exposed to sprays. A list of
insecticides and restricted-use pesticides labeled for the control
of budworms is available in Table 6. Use the highest labeled rates
for heavy populations.
Table 3. Tray-drench application of insecticides
Admire 2F
(and generic
Admire Pro 4F
Orthene 97
Platinum 2 SC
1 fl oz/1,000 plants
1.4 to 2.8 fl oz/1,000
0.5 fl oz/1,000 plants
0.6 to 1.2 fl oz
3/4 lb/A
0.8 to 1.3 fl oz/1,000
1.3 fl oz/1,000 plants
Aphids, flea beetles,
wireworms (high rate)
Flea beetles, cutworms
Aphids, flea beetles
Table 4. Transplant—water application of insecticides
Admire 2F
(and generic
Admire Pro
Coragen SC
Orthene 97
Platinum 2 SC
1.4 fl oz/1,000
1.4 to 2.8
fl oz/1,000 plants
0.6 to 1.2
fl oz/1,000 plants
5 to 7.5 fl oz
0.6 to 1.6 fl
oz/1,000 plants
3/4 lb/A
0.8 to 1.3
fl oz/1,000 plants
1.3 fl oz/1,000
Restricted Use Pesticides
Brigade 2E
4 to 6.4 fl oz/A
Capture LFR
5.3 to 8.5 fl oz/A
Aphids, flea beetles,
wireworms (high rate)
Budworms, hornworms
Aphids, budworms, flea
beetles, hornworms, thrips,
Flea beetles, cutworms
Aphids, flea beetles
Cutworms, wireworms
Table 5. Insecticides labeled for foliar application for control of
tobacco aphids
Actara 25% WDG
2 to 3 oz
Assail 30 G
1.5 to 4 oz
Belay 2.13 SC
3 to 4 fl oz
2.56 to 6.4 fl oz
3.8 to 6.4 fl oz
Capture LFR
3.4 to 8.5 fl oz
Endigo ZC
4 to 4.5 fl oz
Fulfill 50 WDG
2.75 oz
Orthene 97
3/4 lb
Provado 1.6 F
2 to 4 fl oz
Voliam Flexi WDG
2.5 to 4 oz
Restricted Use Pesticides
5 to 9 fl oz
Brigade 2EC
2.56 to 6.4 fl oz
3.8 to 6.4 fl oz
Capture LFR
3.4 to 8.5 fl oz
Endigo ZC
4 to 4.5 fl oz
Lannate 90 SP
ВЅ lb
Table 6. Insecticides labeled for foliar application for control of
budworms and hornworms
Harvest Interval
Not after layby
Not after layby
Not after layby
Agree WG (3.8% Bt aizawai)
Assail 30 SG
Belt 4 SC
Biobit HP (6.4% Bt kurstaki)
Biobit F (6.4% Bt kurstaki)
Coragen SC
Denim 0.16 EC
Dipel 10 G
Dipel DF
Dipel ES
Javelin WG
Lepinox WDG
Orthene 97
Sevin 80S
Tracer 4 SC
Voliam Flexi WDG
XenTari DF
Restricted Use Pesticides
Brigade 2EC
Capture LFR
Endigo ZC
Lannate SP
Warrior 1 CS
Do not apply later
than layby
Hornworms eat large amounts of tobacco foliage. The first
brood appears in June. A second brood is active from late July
through late August. Weekly field checks will allow detection
of infestations that would benefit from treatment. Examine the
entire plant, particularly the upper third, for signs of damage
and live worms. Treat if there are five or more hornworms (1 inch
or longer) per 50 plants and topping is at least one week away.
Treatments applied before most worms exceed 1.5 inches in
length will greatly reduce yield loss. Hornworms with white
egg-like cocoons on their back are parasitized by a small wasp.
These worms will not contribute to yield loss and should not
be included in counts to determine economic thresholds. By
late August or early September as much as 90 percent of the
hornworm population may be parasitized.
Hornworms pose the greatest threat at the end of the growing season. Those present on plants at harvest will continue to
feed on wilting and curing tobacco. Check fields for hornworms
about one week before harvest. Apply an insecticide with a
short preharvest interval if necessary to prevent taking significant numbers to the barn (Table 6). There are no treatments to
control hornworms effectively on housed tobacco.
Tobacco flea beetles are present in every field each season.
Damage tends to be most severe in fields that are set first, especially following a mild winter when beetle survival is greatest.
Flea beetles move frequently, chewing small round holes (shot
holes) in the leaves. Extensive damage can occur when beetles
feed in the bud of the plant. This injury can add to transplant
stress and slow plant establishment. Flea beetles can be controlled with systemic insecticides applied in the transplant
water or by a foliar spray if a preventive treatment was not used.
An average of three or more beetles per plant is enough to cause
significant damage. Treat if there are three or more beetles per
plant during the first two weeks after transplant. Table 7 provides
information on insecticides and restricted-use pesticides labeled
for flea beetle control. Established plants rarely need protection
from this insect.
1 to 2 lb
2.5 to 4.0 oz
2 to 3 fl oz
ВЅ to 1 lb
1 to 4 pt
3.5 to 7.5 fl oz
8 to 12 fl oz
5 to 10 lb
ВЅ to 1 lb
1 to 2 pt
1/8 to 1Вј lb
1 to 2 lb
3/4 lb
1-1/4 lb
1.4 to 2.9 fl oz
4 oz
ВЅ to 2 lb
Harvest Interval
5 to 9 fl oz
2.56 to 6.4 fl oz Do not apply later
than layby
3.4 to 8.5 fl oz
4 to 4.5 fl oz
ВЅ lb
1.9 to 3.8 fl oz
Table 7. Insecticides labeled for foliar application for control of flea
Actara 25% WDG
2 to 3 oz
Carbaryl 4L
1 qt
Sevin 80S
1-1/4 lb
Orthene 97
ВЅ lb
Provado 1.6 F
4 fl oz
Voliam flexi
2.5 to 4 oz
Restricted Use Pesticides
5 to 9 fl oz
Brigade 2EC
2.56 to 6.4 fl oz
5.1 6.4 fl oz
Capture LFR
3.4 to 8.5 fl oz
Endigo ZC
4 to 4.5 fl oz
Lannate 90 SP
ВЅ lb
Warrior 1 CS
1.92 to 3.84 fl oz
Harvest Interval
Do not apply later
than layby
Occasional Pests
Armyworms may be present in no-till tobacco fields transplanted into burned-down grass or small-grain cover crop. Belt,
Besiege, Brigade, Brigadier, Endigo ZC, and Capture are labeled
for control.
Cutworms may be present in tobacco fields because of early
season weed growth. Often they are relatively large by the time
tobacco is set in the field, making control more difficult. Cutworms feed at the base of transplants and can cut them off at
ground level or belowground if the soil is dry. Moths are active
in March and April, laying their eggs on low, spreading weeds.
Table 8. Insecticides labeled for foliar application for control of
Damage potential is highest in late-set fields where there has
been a flush of winter annual weeds. Cutworms will begin to
feed on the weeds and switch to transplants when the weed
growth is removed. A foliar spray should be applied if five or
more cut plants are found per 100 plants checked. Belt, Besiege,
Brigade, Brigadier, Endigo ZC, Orthene 97, and Warrior 1 CS
can be used as a broadcast spray.
Grasshoppers usually remain in hayfields and along waterways, but under dry conditions they may move from these into
tobacco when pastures or hayfields are clipped. Treatment of
field borders to prevent mass migration into the field should be
considered (Table 8). When selecting an insecticide for this use,
consider the possibility of residues and time from application
to cutting or grazing of hay. Treat when grasshoppers are active
along field margins, or if 10 or more grasshoppers are found per
50 plants.
Japanese beetles can feed on tobacco. The damage usually is
confined to a small number of plants. Actara, Besiege, Brigadier,
Endigo ZC, Orthene, Provado, Sevin 80S, Warrior, or Voliam
Flexi may be used if Japanese beetles are causing significant
Orthene 97
1/4 lb
Restricted Use Pesticides
5 to 9 fl oz
Brigade 2EC
2.56 to 6.4 fl oz
Capture LFR
3.4 to 8.5 fl oz
Endigo ZC
4 to 4.5 fl oz
Lannate 90 SP
ВЅ lb
Warrior 1 CS
1.92 to 3.84 fl oz
Harvest Interval
Do not apply later
than layby
Stink bugs can feed on tobacco and cause the wilting or collapse of individual leaves, which can become scalded. Generally,
the symptoms do not show until a day or two after feeding. The
damage usually appears worse than it actually is. Acephate,
Besiege, Brigade, Brigadier, Endigo ZC, Orthene, or Warrior are
labeled for stink bug control. Treatment is not justified unless
stink bugs are found in the field.
Thrips can feed on tobacco plants but usually are only a temporary problem. Several insecticides are labeled as foliar sprays
for thrips control.
Safety and Health in Tobacco Production
Mark Purschwitz, John Wilhoit, and Bob Pearce
roduction agriculture is a hazardous occupation. While tobacco production may not be especially hazardous in terms
of fatalities compared to other crops, the range of operations
required for the production of a crop is quite varied. Tobacco
production requires significantly higher amounts of manual
labor than other field crops and thus carries a significant opportunity for accidents and injuries. Tobacco harvesting and
stripping operations, in particular, typically require large
crews of seasonal labor, and it is important that these workers
are aware of potential hazards and use safe working practices.
Communication can be difficult with large and varied work
crews, especially with immigrant laborers who may not understand English well, so farm operators must put effort into
promoting safety.
many in-season injuries that cost time and money.
Prior to hanging tobacco, carefully inspect the rails of your
barns for cracks and damage, since broken rails are a major cause
of falls while hanging tobacco. Needless to say, these falls can
be extremely serious and can result in everything from broken
bones to broken necks and permanent paralysis. Do not assume
that the rails are in the same condition they were last year. Look
them over carefully and repair or replace rails with even a small
amount of weakness. Look for locations where ladders or steps
can be efficiently added to the barn to reduce the amount of
climbing around on the rails, especially in some of the very
large barns that have become more common in burley tobacco
Check the barn for bee or wasp nests, especially around and
under eaves. Tobacco housing activities can disturb bees and
wasps and result in painful stings for workers. Safely remove
any known nesting areas. Long-distance, quick knockdown
insecticides work well to reduce the chance of stings.
Inspect wagons and other equipment used during harvest.
For wagons, inspect the deck itself, look for cracked or broken
floorboards or other wooden parts, and make sure that the rear
rack is sound and secure. Check the running gear, including
rims, tires, and tire pressures. The last thing you want in the
middle of harvest is to have a wagon go down from some sort
of failure. A breakdown on the road while transporting a load
of tobacco is even more dangerous. If you pull more than one
wagon at a time, is the hitch on the rear of the leading wagon
in good condition? Do you have safety hitch pins (pins with
retainers so they cannot pop out) for all your wagons? Don’t
leave safety issues to chance.
Safety during Tobacco Setting
Tobacco setting is a relatively safe operation. However, protection from heat and sun and proper hydration are important
and will be discussed below in the section on harvest field safety.
Research has uncovered several cases of carbon monoxide
poisoning during setting operations. Although you may think
carbon monoxide poisoning is impossible outdoors, utility
tractors with underslung mufflers and exhaust pipes can pump
carbon monoxide directly into your workers’ breathing zone.
Only use tractors with vertical exhausts during setting.
Preharvest Preparation
The most important safety work you can do on your farm is
preseason preparation. The old saying, “An ounce of prevention
is worth a pound of cure,” is certainly applicable here. Doing
what is necessary to create a safe workplace will help you avoid
Before dropping sticks from your Hi-Boy or other machine,
make sure the machine itself is in good working condition, especially steering systems and wheels/tires that could lead to a
failure or loss of control if they malfunction. Make sure you have
safe, comfortable accommodations for the riders. Just because
you’ve always done it this way does not mean improvements
cannot be made. Does the machine have sturdy, comfortable
seats that don’t wobble or do anything else that could lead to a
fall? Are the seats padded for comfort over rough ground? Do
they have footrests to support feet and legs? While seatbelts are
not recommended for tractors and other machines that do not
have roll-over protective structures (ROPS), do your riders have
handrails or other places to hold on to while going over rough
ground? Are the sticks not only secure but convenient in order
to prevent excessive reaching and other awkward movements
that can lead to sore muscles or falls?
provide traction on the rails. Three points of contact should
be maintained when climbing in the barn, either two feet and
one hand or one foot and two hands. Frequent rest breaks are
recommended to avoid leg fatigue that may lead to accidents
while up in the barn. Horseplay should not be allowed during
climbing, hanging sticks, or just waiting for the next load. The
same applies when removing the cured tobacco from the barn.
Needless to say, the consumption of alcohol during hanging
operations should be strictly prohibited.
Stripping and Market Preparation
The same precautions for housing tobacco in traditional
barns apply when climbing back in the barns to bulk the tobacco
for stripping. The hazards involved with traditional manual
stripping operations are minimal, but if some of the newer,
powered mechanical stripping devices are used, workers need
to be protected from moving parts like gears and chains. Hearing protection may be required around power stalk choppers,
which can be very loud. The big tobacco balers that have become
much more common have pinch points that workers should be
aware of. Workers operating the hydraulic valves on these balers
need to be sure that their coworkers are well clear of the balers
when they are in operation.
Stripping may involve dusty conditions. When dust is an issue, good ventilation and dust filtering is important to provide
a safe and comfortable working environment and protect the
respiratory health of workers. There are two options you can
• In relatively small stripping rooms that tend to be very dusty,
dust filtering systems like those used in wood-working
shops, with replaceable disposable filters, may be an option.
It is important that adequate filtering capacity, good quality
filters, and regular filter changes are provided.
• A second option is for workers to wear approved dust respirators (also known as dust/mist respirators or particulate respirators). These respirators must be approved by the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and
carry a NIOSH approval number. Do not use the inexpensive,
non-approved dust masks which look similar but are used
only for nuisance dusts like sawdust and are not considered
respirators. Typically these masks are very inexpensive, have
a single strap, and do not seal well, whereas true dust respirators cost more and have two straps for a tighter fit. The mask
must fit tightly around the user’s nose and mouth, and cannot
be used with beards or facial hair because a seal cannot be
Harvest Field Safety and Health
Tobacco harvest involves both injury and illness hazards.
Hazards like the tobacco knife and the spear point at the end of
sticks may seem obvious but should be discussed with workers
prior to harvest. It never hurts to remind workers that rushing,
lack of attention, or horseplay in the field can result in serious
cuts or spearing. Eyes are especially vulnerable to the spear and
cannot be replaced once they’ve been destroyed; stylish safety
glasses, including safety sunglasses, are available from online
safety equipment suppliers at very reasonable prices and would
be a good way to protect workers’ eyes.
Heat and sun exposure are other obvious hazards that should
be discussed with workers. Wearing hats that cover the ears reduces sun exposure that has resulted, over the long term, in high
rates of skin cancer among farmers. Hydration is critical; plenty
of water should be available at all times, and workers should be
encouraged to take breaks and stay hydrated. Problems that can
result from excessive heat include heat rash (a skin irritation
from excessive sweating), heat cramps, heat exhaustion (with
symptoms like heavy sweating, rapid breathing, and a fast but
weak pulse) and heatstroke (a life-threatening illness resulting
from very high body temperatures with symptoms like dizziness, dry skin, and a rapid but strong pulse). Heatstroke requires
immediate emergency care.
Green tobacco sickness is a type of nicotine poisoning resulting from contact with wet tobacco, particularly when workers’
clothing becomes saturated. Symptoms vary but may include
nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, weakness, and cramping. Saturated clothing should be removed, the skin washed
with soap and water, and dry clothing provided. Although the
illness is not life-threatening and will normally resolve itself in
a few days, medical care should be provided, since other factors
might be involved, especially if symptoms are severe. Preventing green tobacco sickness means waiting until leaves are dry
before harvesting or wearing a rain suit when working in wet
Local or online safety companies can help you select the appropriate dust respirator, as there are several different ratings
available. Typically the appropriate rating would be an N95
respirator, which means it is for non-petroleum mists/dusts (the
“N”) and is 95 percent effective when properly fitted, which is an
acceptable level of effectiveness. An N100 dust respirator might
be necessary for someone with severe allergies to dust or when
working with more harmful dusts and molds. A “P” respirator,
such as P95, is designed to be resistant to mists and dusts that
contain petroleum products. Again, your safety supplier can
guide you on selection.
Safety in the Tobacco Barn
As mentioned previously, rails should be inspected prior to
hanging tobacco, and any repairs or replacements made. Workers should be required to wear sturdy shoes with good soles that
Roadway Safety
in paperwork and legal costs and take away from important
time needed to manage and operate your farm. Having your
equipment involved in a serious collision following failure to
obey traffic regulations or other operator error exposes you to
potentially serious liability.
Farmers across the country know that operating farm equipment on public roads is stressful and sometimes dangerous as
the general public becomes more removed from farming and
seems to care more about personal convenience. Cell phones
and other distractions make the situation even worse. Smart
farm operators take precautions to protect themselves as much
as possible during roadway transport.
One important aspect of roadway safety is proper lighting
and marking. Equipment should be as visible as possible to motorists approaching from the front or rear. Remember that crop
materials like tobacco or round bales tend to blend in with the
surrounding terrain. All tractors, wagons, and tall implements
that block the view of the tractor should have bright slowmoving vehicle (SMV) emblems. These emblems must be kept
clean and replaced when they fade. Other high-visibility tape,
bright fluorescent orange for daytime and reflective red for dusk
and nighttime, should be added to the extremities of equipment
to help prevent collisions when passing. All lights should be in
working condition and used day or night; headlights, taillights,
and flashing amber lights should be used to make equipment
more visible. The only lights that should not be used on the road
are work lights that are intended for field use only, since they
will blind the vision of approaching motorists.
Another important aspect of roadway safety is maintaining
control of equipment. Safety hitch pins (as mentioned previously) have retainers to prevent popping out and should always
be used to prevent wagons or other trailing equipment from
coming unhitched. Do not use homemade hitch pins. Safety
chains should be used with pickups but are also advisable with
tractors. Operators should be trained to slow down if wagons
are swaying and not trailing properly. Speed must be kept down
when navigating blind curves or hills, and the operator should
be ready for traffic to appear.
Anyone operating your equipment should be knowledgeable about highway laws and follow all rules of the road. It is
best (both for safety and liability reasons) to require anyone
who will operate your equipment on public roads to have a
driver’s license. Allowing adequate time to cross or pull onto
roads, pulling over to allow following traffic to pass, and staying
in your own lane but being aware when your equipment is too
wide to stay in your lane are all important operator skills and
Besides the potential for serious injury or death, roadway
collisions should be avoided because of liability. Even if you
are innocent of any wrongdoing, a lawsuit can drown you
Tractor Safety in General
The tractor rollover, or overturn, is the single most common
fatal farm-related incident in the nation. For that reason, all
tractors should be equipped with roll-over protective structures
(ROPS), which are either roll bar-type frames or cabs with
rollover protection built into the structure. Seatbelts should be
worn when tractors have ROPS, but even if the operator is not
wearing a seatbelt, a tractor with a ROPS is much safer than a
tractor without ROPS. Tractors used on hillsides should have
wider wheel spacing, the center of gravity kept low (especially
when using a loader), and the operator trained to always turn
downhill if the tractor feels unstable.
Hitching injuries can be avoided by making sure the person
helping the tractor operator is not between the tractor and implement. Good communication, especially eye contact, should
be maintained between the helper and the operator. Helpers
should wait until the tractor stops before stepping between the
tractor and the implement to hold the wagon tongue or hitch.
Tractor operators should also be aware of bystanders, especially
children, who should be kept away from farm equipment.
Extra riders should not be allowed on tractors unless there is
a training seat in the cab, which is typically only found on newer,
larger tractors. Falls from tractors and resulting run overs are a
common cause of farm fatalities. If it is necessary to get workers
out to a field, use cars or other forms of transportation. Even if
riding on tractor fenders has been a common practice on your
farm, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
NOTE: This section is intended to provide basic information
and cannot cover every possible or potential hazard on your
farm. Each farm operator is responsible for inspecting for
farm-related hazards and operating machinery according to
manufacturers’ specified practices.
Introductory Safety Training for Tobacco Workers (ID-204),
an English/Spanish bulletin, is available from UK Cooperative
Extension. This bulletin provides basic training using a farm
walk-around approach by the grower with the workers. The
publication provides basic introductory training and is not
intended to cover all possible hazards on a farm.
Appendix I
Worker Protection Standard Checklist
Lee Townsend
This information was prepared to help farmers comply with
the Environmental Protection Agency’s Worker Protection
Standard (WPS). It does not cover all details of the requirements. Sources and costs of signs and equipment are given as
educational examples only. Prices vary with source and quantities purchased. See the WPS section of the label for productspecific instructions.
Workers—Water to wash hands, soap, and single-use towels.
Must not be in area being treated or under REI.
Handlers—Water to wash entire body, soap, single-use towels,
and clean towels. Also must be where personal protective
equipment is removed and in mix/load area. Supplies must
be enclosed.
Notification—Signs for Posting
Information at Central Location
Employer must provide and maintain clean PPE required by
label and a pesticide-free area to store and put on and take off
equipment. Dispose of heavily contaminated PPE as hazardous
waste. Check the label for specific PPE needed for mixing,
loading, and application.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
п‚ЁWPS Safety Poster
Gempler P928
$ 6.25 each
Nearest Medical Facility Sign (or make your own)
Gempler X1584
$ 10.50 each
Reusable Pesticide Application Poster (or make your own)
Gempler P942
$ 9.95 each
Post before application is made, keep posted until 30 days
after Restricted Entry Interval (REI) expires.
Chemical resistant gloves (15 mil unlined nitrile)
Gempler 10212
$ 3.00 (pair)
Unhooded DuPont Tyvek Coverall
Gempler 214559
$ 6.95 each
Low-cost Anti-Fog Chemical Splash Goggles
Gempler 10507
$ 4.75 each
Moldex Pesticide Respirator
Gempler G80002
$ 37.20 each
Replacement cartridges
Gempler G8100M
$ 64.60/box (10 cartridges)
Emergency Assistance—Act promptly if any worker/handler
may be poisoned.
Provide transportation to medical facility.
Supply medical personnel with product name, EPA
registration number, and active ingredient(s). Describe
pesticide use and give details about exposure.
Training—Valid for five years if records or EPA card is available.
Certified pesticide applicators do not need WPS training and
can perform WPS training. Training aids are available from the
Extension office.
Product Name
and EPA
Field Location Registration Ingredient(s) Time and Date
and Description
in Product
of Application Interval
Corrugated WPS Sign
Gempler 2256
$ 3.95 each
All greenhouse applications require posting. Some labels
require field posting. Posting must be done before application
and remain until three days after REI expires. Signs must be
visible from all entrances into treated areas.
Oral notification—Inform workers of treated areas before
application or before they begin work. Tell them not to enter
treated areas during the REI. Some pesticide labels require
both oral warnings and posting of treated areas.
Workers need basic training before they begin and must
complete training within five days. A worker is anyone who
does tasks such as harvesting, weeding, or watering.
Handlers mix, load, transfer, or apply pesticides. They also
may do many other specific tasks, such as incorporating
soil-applied pesticides, clean PPE, and dispose of pesticide
WPS Training Receipt
Gempler G95003 (worker)
$ 8.40 each
Gempler G95004 (handler)
$ 8.50 each
Pesticide handlers must understand all labeling information
for the pesticides they are using and must have access to
Decontamination—Must be within a quarter mile of workers/
handlers. Maintain for seven to 30 days after REI applies (see
Appendix II
Some Generic Insecticides by Active Ingredient
Generic formulations are available
for many active ingredients labeled for
tobacco (Table 1). Amounts of active
ingredients in and application sites of
generic products may differ from those
in name brands. Check labels carefully
before purchase.
Information Summary Table
for Tobacco Insecticides
Table 2 is provided for a quick comparison of insecticides labeled for tobacco.
Insecticides are listed alphabetically by
pesticide common name (usually present
in the active ingredients section of the
product label). One or more brand names
are included along with the Restricted
Entry Interval (REI) and mode of action
group number. Brand names of restricted
use pesticides appear in bold italics .
Use pesticide products only in accordance with their labels and with
the Environmental Protection Agency
Worker Protection Standard (WPS).
Do not enter or allow worker entry into
treated areas during the REI. Check the
label for Personal Protective Equipment
(PPE) required for early entry to treated
areas that is permitted under the WPS
and involves contact with anything that
has been treated, such as plants, soil, or
Mode of Action Group. A numerical classification system has been developed to
make it easy to recognize the modes of
action of insecticide products. Insecticides with the same mode of action
belong to groups with unique numbers.
Selection of a labeled product from a
different number category (different
mode of action) will help to slow down
the development of resistance to either
group. For example, alternate use of
pyrethroid insecticides and pyrethrins
sprays (Category 3) with labeled organophosphate insecticides (Category 1B).
Always avoid tank-mixing products with
the same mode of action. These mode of
action group codes are on many pesticide
labels and have been developed by the
Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC).
Table 1. Common brand names of products for selected active ingredients. Always check
label of pesticides to insure the specific product is labelled, and verify the rate for the
intended crop and pest.
Active Ingredient
("Brand" Name)
Acephate (Orthene)
Bifenthrin (Capture)
Generic Product Names
Bifenthrin +
g-Cyhalothrin (Warrior)
Chlorpyrifos (Lorsban)
Cyfluthrin (Baythroid)
Imidacloprid (Admire)
Acephate, Bracket
Bifen, Bifenthrin, Bifenture EC, Fanfare, Sniper, Tailgunner,
Skyraider, Swagger, Tempest
Declare, Proaxis
Grizzly, Kaiso, Kendo, LambdaT, Lambds-cy, Lambdastar,
Lamcap, Province, Silencer, Tiaga, Willowood Lambda
Chlorpyrifos, Govern, Hatchet, Saurus, Vulcan, Warhawk,
Whirlwind, Yuma
Advise, Alias, Amtide Imidacloprid, Couraze, Kilter, Macho,
Malice, Mana Alias, Midash, Nuprid, Pasada, Prey, Sherpa,
Widow, Wrangler
Table 2. Restricted Entry Interval (REI) and mode of action group number for selected
insecticides labled for tobacco
Common name
Bt aizawai
Bt kurstaki
(+ cyhalothrin)
emamectin benzoate
(+ chlorantraniliprole)
Brand Name
Acephate, Bracket, Orthene
Assail 30 G, Assail 70 WP
Brigade 2E
Capture LFR
Agree WG, Xentari DF
Dipel DF, Javelin WG
Lepinox WDG, etc.
Sevin XLR Plus
(Voliam xpress)
Lorsban and generics
Belay 16 WSG
Belt 4 SC
Warrior and generics
Denim EC
Mocap 15G
Admire and generics
Actara, Platinum
(Voliam flexi)
Restricted Entry
Interval (hours)
Mode of
Action Group
(3 + 28)
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Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Nancy M. Cox, Director of Cooperative Extension Service, University of
Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Lexington, and Kentucky State University, Frankfort. Copyright В© 2014 for materials developed by University of Kentucky
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Revised 12-2014
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