Hot, dry weather both good and bad for tobacco growers

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Ray Emerson says the "old timers" always say that a dry June and a wet July make for a good crop, as the dry weather in June forces the plants' roots to dig deep into the ground to find water.

This creates a strong root structure, which in turn helps make the plants healthier.

"We're in the cultivation process at this point and we've had good weather for that," Emerson explained.

Even so, he said a little rain would be good right now to help keep the crop from getting too dried out.

If the dry spell continues, that could create a big problem, both for dry land tobacco and for growers who have an irrigation system.

"We're going to have to start irrigation, and that's costly because of the labor factor and the high cost of diesel fuel," said Emerson.

To put the cost in perspective, there are more than 6,000 acres of flue-cured tobacco in Pittsylvania County, more than any other county in the state.

"Tobacco is a very strong economic driver in the agricultural sector in Pittsylvania County," Pittsylvania Co. Ag Agent Stephen Barts explained.

Making a healthy crop all the more important and therefore making the high costs associated with a prolonged dry spell all the more stressful, especially this year as growers look to make up for last season.

"We had a lot of rain at the end of the year that was detrimental to the crop," Emerson recalled. "A lot of farmers lost, the tobacco matured too fast."

So far, growers appear to be on track to have a good year.

"Things are going along at a very good pace," said Barts. "The crops are growing and look very well in the fields for the most part."

In about a month, growers will have a better idea about this year's crop as they will begin harvesting the tobacco around the middle of July.

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