After a terribly dry start, Kentucky's burley tobacco crop, though stunted by rough growing conditions so far, seems to be making a recovery and just might make average yields in most places.
The burley tobacco belt, particularly around the Lexington area, has gone through extreme weather this year and conditions still seem a mixed bag in some places, due largely from the state experiencing its driest June and early spring in history to having one of its wettest Julys, said Bob Pearce, tobacco specialist with the University of Kentucky Extension.
Tobacco is resilient. It responds quickly when the tap finally opens, but many acres, especially early planted, have been mowed down and won't be harvested. Despite it all, the crop just might make respectable average yields at around 2,000 pounds per acre or better, but it has been an expensively worrisome crop to grow.
Sixty-four percent of burley tobacco was blooming last week in Kentucky, compared with 56% this time last year and 61% for the five-year average. Of the tobacco set in the state, 75% is in good to excellent conditions now, according to the USDA stats office in Kentucky.
"I was just about ready to go ask the pastor for a refund," Robert James, who grows tobacco around the Lexington area, jokingly told the Kentucky Burley Tobacco tour folks as they visited his farm last week. Though many of his acres missed out on some of the storms that came through in late July, including high winds that twisted some fields up, he's now getting the rain needed to hopefully push the crop through to harvest.
With only 20% of the tobacco crop irrigated in Anderson County, Tommy Yanky, the county's UK Extension agricultural and natural resources agent, "is amazed at how well the crop is doing."
But, the rain has come much too late for the area's corn crop, which was hit hard by 100 degree temperatures and zero rain for most of the pollination period last month. Yanky sited one grower who farms 800 acres of corn who will get corn yields in the low 30s (bushels) per acre, maybe a little better in a few fields. But for the most part, the crop is a complete disaster. In 40 years of farming, he said, the grower had never bought insurance for his corn crop, not until this year, which will provide the safety net he'll need to make this year worth it.
"But that's just how it has been this year," Yanky said.