Tobacco setting gets started in Bluegrass

ssloan@herald-leader.comMay 21, 2012 

Tobacco setting is under way across the state.

About 30 percent of the expected crop has been planted, but we're missing a vital component: rain.

"We need some good rainfall," said Andy Bailey, an extension specialist for the University of Kentucky who focuses on dark tobacco but also works with the burley that is common in Central Kentucky.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects nationwide tobacco acreage to fall 2 percent year over year, to 317,950 acres in 2012. In Kentucky, it's expected to be up 4 percent, to 80,700 acres.

Bailey, who works in Princeton in Western Kentucky, said Central Kentucky, where burley is dominant, is in "a lot better shape moisture-wise" than the western part of the state, where dark tobacco, used in snuff and other products, is grown.

"The condition of the crop so far looks good," Bailey said, cautioning that irrigation might be required as early as June instead of the typical July onset.

Bob Pearce, a UK extension tobacco specialist in Lexington, said he was concerned about transplanted tobacco.

"We had a tough situation with the greenhouses. When it was so warm early on, a lot of our greenhouses just got too hot, and we've had a lot of problems with uneven growth of the plants," Pearce said.

He said farmers typically get about 85 percent to 95 percent usability from those plants, but they're probably running 75 percent to 85 percent this year.

"Normally, it's not such a big deal because if you come up a little bit short, somebody's got some," Pearce said. "But this year, it seems like everybody is coming up a bit short.

"We'll have to see how that plays out."

Kentucky's tobacco harvest peaked in 1919 with 648,000 acres of the crop, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz.

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