49th TWC, Tob. Work. Conf., 2020, abstr. 12

Economic factors influencing lower-leaf removal decisions

BLALOCK C.; BROWN A.B.; VANN M.C.; FISHER L.R.; FINCH C.E.
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC USA

With a current global over-supply of flue-cured tobacco, tobacco producers in North Carolina have been encouraged to remove the lowermost leaves prior to harvest due to their low value in manufactured products. In field trials, the removal of 4 or 8 leaves per plant at topping reduced cured leaf yield by 644 and 902 kg/ha, respectively, when compared to systems absent of leaf removal (2,973 kg/ha).  While cured leaf quality was not affected by leaf removal programs, per hectare value declined by 19 to 24% within the same treatments. Despite the negative impacts to yield and value, the four leaf removal program did not impact crop throw. However, the eight leaf removal program completely eliminated lug grades while increasing the portion of leaf and tip grades. Machine-harvest production budgets indicate that net economic return was reduced from approximately $US 2,764/ha in programs absent of lower leaf removal to $US 982 and 671/ha in 4 and 8 leaf removal programs, respectively. In hand-harvest programs, net return was reduced even further, with treatments absent of leaf removal being more profitable than the 4 and 8 leaf removal programs ($US 2,020, 301, and 80/ha, respectively). Ultimately, cost savings are found in leaf removal programs; however, they are not large enough to offset the profitability reductions generated from signifcant yield losses. At present, these systems do not appear to be economically feasible or sustainable for US farmers without subsequent price increases ranging from $US 0.75 - 0.99/kg. (Reprinted with permission)