Organic Tobacco Production


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Organic Tobacco Production

  1. 1. ATTRA Organic Tobacco Production A Publication of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service • 1-800-346-9140 • www.attra.ncat.orgBy George Kuepper This publication is a general overview, not aand Raeven Thomas, detailed plan for growing organic tobacco—eitherUpdated by for contract producers or for backyard growers.Katherine AdamNCAT Agriculture ForewordSpecialist As of 2003, the former federal tobacco pro-© 2008 NCAT gram—consisting of price supports, quotas/ acreage allotments, and no-net-cost assess-Contents ments for burley, flue-cured, dark, and cer- tain cigar leaf tobaccos—was terminated.Foreword ........................... 1 Growers with acreage allotments were com-Introduction ..................... 2 pensated by means of a buy-out. That sameTobacco Culture .............. 2 year, the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. was Transplant acquired by RJ Reynolds, which, according Production..................... 2 to a company spokesman, planned to move Field Growing ............... 5 production of its natural brand, American Harvesting ..................... 7 Spirit Tobacco, overseas. Curing ............................. 7References ........................ 8 At present, two U.S. grower networks are recruiting for contract production of organicResources .......................... 8 tobacco for new product lines: • Organic Smoke, 2014 Redlawn Rd., Boydton, VA 23917 • Organic Leaf Cooperative, 2932 Newton Rd., Viroqua, WI 54665 coffee, ginger, wheat grass, vetch, clover, alfalfa and rye seed, shade and ornamental Production contracts for 2007 were signed trees, Indian corn, sugar cane, CRP land, with growers in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Vir- and [designated on-farm] wildlife habitat.” ginia, and North Carolina, but growers in It is possible that no acres were planted in other states are eligible to apply. The com- organic tobacco that year. [Organic acreage panies are seeking experienced tobacco statistics for tobacco for subsequent years growers that have organic certification are being compiled.] already in place. • Alabama ........... 51 acres After 2003, when USDA/ERS began to pub- lish organic production statistics, tobacco • Kentucky .......... 28 acresATTRA—National SustainableAgriculture Information Service was lumped in with “unclassified crops, • North Carolina . 248 acresis managed by the National Cen- other land.” This means that we can only • Virginia ........ 1,079 acrester for Appropriate Technology(NCAT) and is funded under a say, “no more than X acres were devoted togrant from the United States organic tobacco” in a given state. • Wisconsin ..... 1,637 acresDepartment of Agriculture’s RuralBusiness-Cooperative Service.Visit the NCAT Web site (www. In 2005, the latest year for which statis- Research on organic tobacco is being tics have been published, no more than the ducted at North Carolina State Universityphp) for more informa-tion on our sustainable designated number of acres shown below by a former principal of Santa Fe Naturalagriculture projects. was devoted to “Christmas trees, tobacco, Tobacco Co.
  2. 2. Introduction This publication will focus on techniques appropriate to organic tobacco production. T here are several species of tobacco, all Resources for conventional production can of them native to the Americas. Nico- be obtained through archived Coopera- tiana tabacum L. is the most widely tive Extension publications, USDA, and, of grown, providing virtually all the domestic course, sources such as grower networks or leaf used in commercial production of cigars, processors that contract for production. cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco products. Quality factors are extremely important to Another species, N. rustica, more commonly grown overseas, has generated interest the marketability of tobacco. High-quality because of its high nicotine content, useful leaves are high in carbohydrates and pot- in the making of insecticides and for other ash; low in nitrogen, fiber, calcium, and ash; specialized uses. However, N. rustica is not and of uniform color. Surprisingly, moder- a well-domesticated species and is reputedly ate to low nicotine levels are preferred for difficult to grow, in the absence of varietal high-quality tobacco, despite the fact that improvement. A selection of tobacco books, nicotine is the chemical responsible for the focusing on N. rustica, is offered by the stimulating effect of tobacco use. Related ATTRA Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds, published Factors affecting crop quality include soil Publications by the seed company J.L. Hudson, Seeds- type, fertilization, cultural practices, sea- man ( son, and climate. Current tobacco growingNCAT Organic CropsWorkbook regions typically have an annual rainfall of Backyard growers have established at least two forums to discuss micro-production and 40 to 45 inches, though it is somewhat less curing of tobacco for home use. See www. in the Midwest. Summer rainfall and ade- and www. quate humidity, especially in the fall, are major factors that delimit growing regions. Tobacco. It should be emphasized that while Tobacco is unsuited to areas with high organic regulations exempt very small grow- ers (under $5,000 annual sales) from formally winds or with alkaline soils high in nitro- certifying, they are prohibited from selling to gen. As a result, commercial production processors or using the USDA seal. In addi- of tobacco in the United States is located tion, some states prohibit the sale of home- almost entirely in regions east of the Missis- grown and home-processed tobacco. sippi River and the midwestern states that border it. Soil types within any region also As a crop, tobacco is very valuable but affect tobacco quality. Light tobaccos with also very labor-intensive, even with modern a fine texture, normally preferred for cigars mechanization. As such, it has been con- and cigarettes, are typically grown on sandy sidered the only feasible high-value crop loams with a moderate level of fertility. In for small family farms in certain mountain- contrast, heavy clay loams with high fertil- ous parts of the U.S. that have poor soil. ity produce heavy, coarse plants. Information about the lengths to which Ken- tucky has gone to compensate its farmers Tobacco Culture for the loss of tobacco allotments can be The culture of tobacco can be divided into found at several key areas: 1) transplant production; lications/Mcintyre.html. Some conventional 2) field growing; 3) harvest; 4) curing; and farmers have resorted to producing phar- macrop (transgenic) tobacco on contract. 5) marketing. (Marketing tobacco since Sources working with transgenic tobacco 2003 has been covered in the Foreword.) say that safeguards against cross-pollina- tion include removing flower stalks and con- Transplant Production ducting transgenic tobacco trials in coun- Traditional Bed Preparation: Tradition- ties that have not traditionally produced ally, tobacco is seeded into beds or cold tobacco. China is a major source of trans- frames, and then transplanted to the pro- genic tobacco seed. duction field when plants reach a heightPage 2 ATTRA Organic Tobacco Production
  3. 3. Tobacco Classes, Uses, and Producing Regions in the United States before 2003Class Common Uses Principle Production Areas Cigarettes, pipe and chewing North and South Carolina, Virginia,Flue-cured tobacco, export Georgia, FloridaFire-cured Snuff plug wrappers, export Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee Dark types of chewing tobacco, plugAir-cured (includes burley, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and export; Maryland for cigarettes& Green River) Maryland, Virginia, Missouri and pipe and chewing tobacco Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Ohio,Cigar Fillers Cigars Indiana Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania,Cigar Binders Cigars Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota Connecticut, Massachusetts, NewCigar Wrappers Cigars Hampshire, Georgia, Floridaof five to seven inches. Seedling beds are types receive low rates. Medium rates oflocated on well-drained sites that have been fertilizer are provided to other cigar typeswell cleared of weeds and trash. Sloping and to aromatic tobaccos.beds on southern exposure produce the Float Bed Transplant Production: Anstrongest transplants. alternative system of seedling productionThe soil is sterilized using chemicals on using hydroponics is coming into wider use.most conventional farms. Wood fi res and Tobacco is seeded into Styrofoam trays with asteam may be used as alternatives. Soil soil-less potting mix. The trays are then floatedsolarization may be another option, though on a bed of water. Burley Tobacco: Float Bedit is not specifically mentioned in the liter- Transplant Production, by Stanley R. Hollo-ature. A good introduction to sterilization way (3) provides an excellent description ofis available from the University of Califor- this approach, including budgets.nia.(1) Unless some form of soil sterilization In conventional f loat bed systems, sol-is employed, planting bed locations should uble fertilizers are placed in the waterbe changed each year. solution for plant feeding. Organic grow-The seedling bed should be manured the ers might avoid the use of salt-based fer-previous fall, shallow-tilled, and planted tilizers through the use of soluble fish andto a cover crop if possible. This cover crop seaweed products, and other materialsshould be incorporated in early spring, well suitable for organic hydroponics. Suppliersin advance of seeding. The seedling tobacco of liquid organic fertilizers often are foundbed typically receives additional supple- in the periodical The Growing Edge (4),mentary fertilization. Rates vary depending which caters to hydroponic producers. Foron the type of tobacco being grown. Flue- further information on liquid fertilizers andcured tobacco receives relatively high rates systems, see the ATTRA publication Green-of fertilizer, while fi re-cured, burley, dark, house and Hydroponic Vegetable Productionair-cured, and shade-grown cigar-wrapper Resources on the Internet (Web only). Sourcing tobacco seed Contract producers customarily use seed supplied by the organization for which they are growing. Sources such as Workman Tobacco Seed Co. are now online ( Home growers may find it difficult to obtain seed, except through the network of other growers. For heirloom varieties, the Seed Savers Exchange 2008 Yearbook lists 13 types.(2) ATTRA Page 3
  4. 4. Tobacco mosaic. Photo courtesy of Blue mold. Photo courtesy of Pests and Diseases in Seedling Beds: and winds easily scatter the spores over Tobacco mosaic, also called “calico” or large areas. “walloon,” is a serious viral disease that Traditional cultural techniques to suppress often gets a head start in the seedling bed. blue mold include (3): Sterilization of the soil (by wood fi re or steam, as mentioned above) is a fi rst step • Rotating the planting bed to a new in suppression, followed by common sani- location each year tation procedures like removing crop res- • Selecting sites with good air and idues, washing hands, and restricting use water drainage, sunny exposure, of tobacco products when working with the and no shade seedlings. In the field, the spread of mosaic may be slowed by similar procedures, and • Sowing more bed space than is by removing and destroying diseased plants needed for the crop and compart- and eliminating solanaceous (nightshade mentalizing the planting—creating family) weeds. two to three smaller beds rather than one large one One novel approach to controlling tobacco • Sowing beds early mosaic was reported in the Indian Journal Honey Bee. The journal stated that farmers • Avoiding high plant densities in parts of India used skimmed milk as a • Removing covers from plant beds treatment to prevent this disease. A solution frequently to admit sunlight and air of five liters of milk in 100 liters of water is sprayed about one month into the season.(5) • Fertilizing and watering properly to assure vigorous plants Bacterial diseases such as angular leaf • Transplanting as early as conditions spot (Pseudomonas angulata), also called permit “blackfire,” and bacterial leaf spot (P. tabaci), also called “wildfire,” can be • Soil sterilization problematic in seedling beds. Strepto- • Copper sprays mycin and copper sprays have commonly Cutworms are an occasional pest of tobacco been used in these instances. in seedling beds. Removing weeds from Blue mold or downy mildew in tobacco is around the bed area is a good prevention caused by the fungal organism Peronospora measure. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), for- tabacina. Primarily confi ned to planting mulated as a granular bait, may be used beds, the disease is a serious one that may to control the pest. More information on cause complete loss of plants if not con- cutworm control can be found in ATTRA’s trolled. It is favored by wet warm weather, Organic Field Corn Production.Page 4 ATTRA Organic Tobacco Production
  5. 5. Flea beetles (Epitrix spp.) are often a pest in Factors such as tobacco type and variety,seedling beds. Bed sterilization, as well as soil type, and equipment determine theburning or clearing vegetation around the precise spacings used.beds, enhances control. Also, covering the Supplementary fertilization using standardbeds with tobacco cloth or similar cover, commercial fertilizers is the routine practicewith a minimum 25 strands per inch, will on conventionally managed farms. Nitro-provide a suitable physical barrier. Histori- gen is managed carefully to avoid exces-cally, cryolite and 1% rotenone dusts have sive growth and accumulation of nitrogenbeen used to control flea beetles. For fur- compounds in the leaves. Phosphate also isther information, ask for ATTRA’s Flea Bee- managed carefully, as excessive amounts intle: Organic Control Options. the leaves alter burning characteristics of the leaf. High potash levels, on the otherField Growing hand, are desirable. Adequate soil potash isRotations: Growing tobacco in a planned also important in suppressing angular leafrotation with other crops is a good way spot (P. angulata) and bacterial leaf spotto manage fertility and suppress many (P. tabaci). Chlorine-based fertilizers, how- Aweeds, insect pests, and plant diseases— ever, such as potassium chloride, cannot be s a rule,particularly black root rot (Thielaviopsis used, as they too reduce burning quality tobacco doesbasicola), nematodes, and bacterial wilt of the tobacco. Supplementary fertiliza- very well(Pseudomonas solanacearum). Since the eco- tion commonly includes a source of mag-nomic value of tobacco is very high, it is at nesium. Inadequate levels of soil magne- following corn,the top of the pecking order with regard to sium encourage incidence of a nutritional cotton, and small-planned rotations, and the welfare of other disorder called “sand drown.” About grain crops.crops is of secondary concern. 24–35 lbs/acre of soluble magnesium is considered adequate for most fields.As a rule, tobacco does very well following Either dolomitic lime or sulfate of potash-corn, cotton, and small-grain crops. Leaf magnesia is commonly used to supplyquality usually is reduced following legumi- magnesium in both conventional and organicnous forage crops and cover crops because cropping systems.of excessive soil nitrogen and organicmatter. Quality also has been observed to Soil pH should be maintained in the slightlyvary following legume crops of peanuts, acidic range (5.5–6.5) with an availablecrotolaria, soybeans, cowpeas, velvetbean, calcium level five times that of magne-and lespedeza. sium.(6) At higher pH levels, the incidence of black root rot increases.To control bacterial wilt, a four- or five-year rotation is suggested, avoiding sus- Manures have historically been used inceptible crops such as tomatoes, peppers, tobacco production, with rates of supple-and peanuts. mentary fertilizers reduced accordingly. Dark tobacco, especially, responds wellTobacco does well on virgin soils and soils to fertilization by manures, though it ispreviously in grass or grass-legume sods. advisable that they be applied and incor-Wireworms (Limonius spp.) can, however, porated the previous fall. Application ofbe a problem in sod soils and remain a sig- animal manures to flue-cured and othernificant pest to crops up to five years after lighter tobaccos is much more risky. Dr.the sod is broken. W.D. Smith of North Carolina State Coop-Cultivation and Fertility: Good field erative Extension has advised that manurespreparation should include a well-prepared be used on corn and other crops in rotation,seedbed, free of clods and weeds. Trans- to minimize any possible side effects on theplants are set out in rows, which may vary tobacco crop.(7) ATTRA provides addi-from three to four feet in width, with plant tional guidelines for manure use in Manuresspacing 18–36 inches apart in the row. for Organic Crop ATTRA Page 5
  6. 6. Mechanical cultivation and hand hoeing are used for weed management. The additional labor costs for hoeing are justified by the high value of the crop. Deep cultivation is allowable shortly after transplanting, but may damage crop roots if continued into the season. Cultivation and hoeing have the additional value of breaking the soil crust, allowing proper air exchange and improving crop yield and quality. For further informa- tion on weed control strategies and options, please ask for ATTRA’s Principles of Sus- Adult tomato hornworm. Courtesy of Jim Occi, tainable Weed Management for Croplands. BugPics, Topping and Suckering: When the tobacco crop is about half-grown, flower buds begin to appear. These flower heads are removed or “topped” to prevent seed formation, forcing the plant to focus on leaf production. The result is larger, thicker, darker leaves that mature more uniformly and contain more nicotine. Topping may be done by hand or with special machines that cut the flower heads and sacrifice a few leaves. Topping requires two or three trips over the field to catch all the plants. Topping of plants also stimulates the growth of secondary stems from the base and/ or leaf axils. These “suckers” must also Tobacco hornworm larva. Photo courtesy of be removed to assure uniformity and quality. While chemicals are available to suppress suckering, these may not be allow- able under organic certification standards. The alternative is removal by hand every seven to ten days. Suckering is one of the most labor-intensive activities in tobacco production, as many plants sucker two or three times before harvest. Insect Pests and Diseases in the Field: Tobacco has a number of insect pests. Among the most threatening of these are two species of hornworm: the tomato horn- worm (Manduca quinquemaculata) and the tobacco hornworm (Protoparce sexta). Hornworm caterpillars are large and easily recognized. Considerable control can be achieved by hand picking in conjunction with other labor-intensive field operations. Post-harvest tillage operations to destroy and bury residues Adult tobacco hornworm. Photo courtesy of are one means of destroying many of 6 ATTRA Organic Tobacco Production
  7. 7. the overwintering pupae. Destruction of the harvest of flue-cured types, shade-grownresidues is also a means of controlling cigar wrappers, and several other cigar-flea beetles. tobacco types.Populations of hornworms often are kept in Stalk-cutting of tobacco is done by cuttingcheck by parasitic braconid wasps and other the stalk at the base. In the case of burleybeneficial insects. Parasitized worms are and fi re-cured types, the stalk is often splitreadily recognized by the presence of small to hasten drying and to facilitate placementwhite cocoons arrayed along their backs. If on wooden laths for curing.the majority of worms found are parasitized,further control measures should be avoided, Curingif possible, to allow the parasites to hatch Curing is the process of drying, chloro-and continue working. phyll decomposition, and other naturalTobacco also is attacked by the tobacco chemical changes that result in the desiredbudworm (Heliothis virescens). Populations tobacco product. Proper curing is essentialof this pest are suppressed through fall to quality. There are three primary formsmanagement of crop residues. Both bud- of barn curing: air curing, flue curing, andworms and hornworms are lepidopterous fire curing.pests, vulnerable to formulations of the All curing takes place in large, tight barnsbiopesticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Tobe truly effective, however, treatments must in which temperature and humidity arebe made when the worms are small. carefully controlled, usually through the use of ventilation and artificial heat. Air curingHarvesting requires from four to eight weeks. Flue cur-There are two primary harvesting methods: ing entails the use of higher temperaturespriming and stalk-cutting. Priming entails in the early stages of curing, which resultsthe picking of individual leaves as they come in a lighter color. Fire curing utilizes natu-into their prime. Usually five to six pickings ral drying for the fi rst three to five days,are required at five to ten-day intervals to followed by the use of hardwood fi res forcomplete harvest. Leaves may be strung on higher-temperature drying, and to impart aspecial sticks or handled in loose bulk form characteristic odor and taste to the tobacco.for curing. Priming usually results in higher Chewing-plug and snuff tobaccos are com-total yields than stalk-cutting. It is used in monly fi re-cured.Preparing tobacco to dry in a drying barn. Photo courtesy of ATTRA Page 7
  8. 8. References international production, and trade of tobacco. Available from: U.S. Government Printing Office1) Elmore, Clyde, et al. (eds.) 1997. Soil Solariza- Washington, D.C. 20402. tion: A Nonpesticidal Method for Controlling Diseases, Nematodes, and Weeds. Publication Tobacco: Instructions for its cultivation and curing. USDA Farmers’ Bulletin* No. 6. 1892. 6 p. 21377. University of California, DANR, Davis. Basic information on preparing the seedbed, planting 13 p. and transplanting seedlings, cultivation, and the cut- soilsolarization.pdf ting and curing of tobacco. Available from Redwood2) Seed Savers Exchange. Decorah, IA. City Seed Co. (Access to the Yearbook Tobacco: Methods of curing tobacco. USDA Farm- is by subscription. ATTRA can provide some ers’ Bulletin* No. 60. 1898. 15 p. Available from information on individual listings.) J.L.Hudson, Seedsman Co., Redwood City Seed Co.3) Holloway, Stanley R. 1996. Burley Tobacco: Float Wechsler, Debbie. 1999. Raising organic tobacco. Bed Transplant Production. North Carolina Carolina Farm Stewardship Ass’n Journal. Vol. 19, Cooperative Extension. Raleigh, NC. 38 p. No. 2. p. 1.4) The Growing Edge, P.O. Box 1027, Corvallis, OR Whitty, E.B. 2005. Growing Tobacco in the Home 97339, 800-888-6785 Garden. Florida Ext. Raman, R. Sundara. 1999. Skimmed milk controls Wilson, Gilbert L. 1987. Buffalo Bird Woman’s tobacco mosaic virus. Honey Bee. October– Garden. Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, December. p. 7. MN. 152 p.6) Martin, J.H., W.H. Leonard, and D.L. Stamp. A sequel to this book has recently been published. 1976. Principles of Field Crop Production. 3rd Also, J.L. Hudson lists two additional titles of interest: ed. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York, Tobacco among the Karuk Indians of California (1929) NY. 1118 p. and The Tobacco Society of the Crow Indians (1919).7) Personal communication by GLK with other ATTRA staff, 1989. * Note: University libraries designated as U.S. Government Document Repositories also have Farmers’ Bulletins archived.Additional Resources:Korrow, Christina J. 1999. Growing Kentucky tobaccothe “old” way. Acres U.S.A. November. p. 13. Contact:Acres U.S.A., P.O. Box 91299, Austin, TX 78744.Crop Profi le for Tobacco in North Carolina. 1999. Organic Tobacco Production By George Kuepper and Raeven ThomasTaylor, Edward G. 1999. Grow your own tobacco. Updated by Katherine AdamCountryside & Small Stock Journal. Vol. 83, No. 2. p. NCAT Agriculture Specialist67–69. Contact: Countryside, Reprints, W11564 State Cathy Svejkovsky, EditorHwy. 64, Withee, WI 54498-9323. Amy Smith, ProductionUniversity of Kentucky. 2008. Tobacco Information This publication is available on the Web at:On-Line. Database. or in the United States. USDA Farmers’ IP322Bulletin* No. 867. Slot 10 Basic information on culture, harvesting, curing, mar- Version 052308 ket preparation, storage and aging, manufacturing,Page 8 ATTRA