Flue-cured tobacco tip leaf yield, quality, value, and color distribution as influenced by cultivar and harvest schedule
Changes in consumer preference and export strategy strongly influence the buying practices of tobacco leaf dealers and cigarette manufacturers. In current times, a dark-colored (orange to red) style of flue-cured tobacco is preferred over a brighter style (lemon-yellow). Research was conducted in four environments from 2009 to 2013 to determine the effect of flue-cured tobacco cultivar and tip leaf harvesting schedule to leaf yield, quality, value, and color distribution as designated by USDA grading standards. Two cultivars were evaluated within each environment, K326 and NC196, with tip leaf harvest schedule as follows: 7 days under-ripe (-7), 3 days over-ripe (+3), 13 days over-ripe (+13), 23 days over-ripe (+23), and 33 days over-ripe (+33). Tobacco cultivar did not affect the measured parameters, thus indicating that K326 and NC196 are likely to have similar maturity and ripening patterns when produced under similar growing conditions. The effect of tip leaf harvest schedule was significant. Cured leaf yield was greatest between -7 and +13 day treatments and declined as harvest was delayed to +23 and +33 days over-ripe due to advanced senescence. Harvesting +3 to +23 days over-ripe reduced the percentage of leaf graded as under-ripe (G, V, KL, KV, and KM) and increased the percentage of ripe to over-ripe grades (KF, F, and K), thus improving cured leaf quality and value. Cured leaf quality and value were reduced in the +33 day treatment due to excess leaf deterioration which sometimes resulted in non-descript (N) grades that have low usability. Results indicate that producers may find it beneficial to delay final harvest by as long as two to three weeks in order to produce the style of over-ripe, full-flavored leaf that is desired by purchasing entities while avoiding the significant yield and value losses that are often associated with over-ripe leaf characteristics.