Cigar wrapper tobacco production in western North Carolina
Since 2000, Burley tobacco production has declined by more than 2,000 ha in the Appalachian mountain region of western North Carolina. The loss of Burley tobacco has left a void in the agricultural economy that has not yet been filled by another commodity. Cigar wrapper tobacco types, such as Pennsylvania seedleaf (PA41) and Connecticut Broadleaf, may be suitable replacements for Burley because of overlapping production practices and a favorable growing climate. Cigar tobacco has not been produced in western North Carolina; therefore, very little is known about the production system. The objective of our study was to quantify the days to flower removal, yield, and grade distribution of six cigar tobacco varieties in two separate environments. In each environment, three PA41 varieties (Eshbach, Grower’s Choice, Welk’s Pride) and three Connecticut Broadleaf varieties (B2, D1, and PAB) were compared. PA41 varieties consistently out yielded Connecticut Broadleaf varieties by 766 to 1,304 kg ha-1 and required an additional 10-12 days to reach full flower. PA 41 likewise produced a higher percentage of wrapper grades in one environment, while Connecticut Broadleaf produced more binder grades in another. Where statistical differences were observed within each tobacco type, PAB and Welk’s Pride were the highest yielding varieties. The effect of variety was not significant for days to flower removal or wrapper grade production. In general, wrapper grade frequency was very low in this study (0-6 %), which was a result of reactive and insufficient pesticide application, higher than recommended topping height, and aggressive plant handling. We believe that cigar tobacco can be successful in western North Carolina; however, it will not come absent of significant extension education and research investment. Future research is planned in North Carolina for both tobacco types.