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This year's tobacco crop should be a good one for area farmers, if they can just bring it in.
The harvest has been delayed by all the rainfall, more than 10 inches above normal this year, and some farmers say they are two to three weeks behind schedule.
"Basically the whole season's been a challenge," said Stuart Chadwell. "We needed the rain, but we had too much at one time, I guess. Overall we have a decent crop."
Chadwell helps his father, Garland, farm 65 acres of tobacco between Simpsonville and Chestnut Grove. They have housed about half the crop.
Chadwell estimated they've lost about 11 acres to too much water, as either plants have drowned or the leaves have fallen off.
Unable to cut the wet tobacco, farmers have had to leave it in the field longer, where it has grown too big and created a storage issue.
On Austin Newton's 138 acres straddling the Shelby and Spencer counties, even a huge new tobacco barn was full in three days. The barn is 56 feet wide by 300 feet long and was being filled with tobacco last week even as the roof was going on.
It was designed to hold 80 acres of tobacco, Newton said, but because the plants are too big, the barn is jam-packed with 75 acres. Top and bottom vents keep the air flowing for curing.
"It's been a bugger," said Andy Newton, Austin's father. "We're having to rent extra barns. We haven't hardly put any tobacco up that hasn't been rained on yet."
The Newtons farm 240 acres in all and have improvised for space by building temporary outdoor structures.
Austin had just completed putting the black plastic over one of three scaffolds he was using Monday afternoon. The scaffolds are about 6-feet wide and 200-feet long.
It had rained on the tobacco in the week it's been hanging, but he said it would have been worse if the plants had been in the ground.
"For the most part, it looks all right," Austin said. "We'll see what happens with the frost -- if we beat it. We can't wait for every little shower to pass over. We've got to get it done."
The Newtons hope to have all but 10 acres cut by Friday. The tobacco hanging on the scaffolding doesn't have the rich golden-brown color of that hanging in their new barn. These plants still have inner layers of green and yellow.
If a heavy frost got to the plants before they cured all the way, the companies with whom farmers contract wouldn't buy the crop.
The lack of space also means that the crop will be stripped as quickly as possible. Later crops will take more time to strip because some plants have huge suckers. Rains washed away the sucker-controlling chemicals.
"The market's not open yet," Andy Newton said. "We'd like to take it in as we strip it, but we're going to have to strip it to make barn room."
As long as they beat the frost, the Newtons said the crop wouldn’t be a financial loss.
"It'll be a good crop valuewise, but as far as pounds per acre go, it won't be as good as last year because it's so wet," Andy Newton said.
With rain in the forecast the rest of the week, it will continue to be challenging for the Newtons and Chadwells to finish the harvest. Chadwell said they have about half the crop to bring in. He wasn't ready to venture the financial success of this season.
”Overall, it's been a plentiful crop this year," Chadwell said. "We can't really get a feel on it until we get it all stripped out and see what happens."
Other issues that could devalue the crop are mold and burning caused by putting tobacco up wet, plus any mud splatters from heavy rain, said Brett Reese, Shelby County's Agriculture Extension Agent. Shelby County grows about 2,500 acres of tobacco. It is one of the top three cash crops in the county.
This year, Reese said, there was more tobacco planted than there were contracts for, and there is less demand, all of which makes the market more competitive.
"I think it’s going to hit everybody across the board," Reese said. "There's a lot of uncertainty in the tobacco crop, even for next year."