Lower leaf removal to reduce lower stalk grades of flue-cured tobacco
At present, interest has been expressed by the tobacco industry in regards to lower leaf removal programs designed to eliminate lower stalk grades (Priming and Lug) in flue-cured tobacco. Research was conducted in North Carolina to evaluate removal of zero, four, or eight leaves at topping and the effect on yield, quality, leaf chemistry, crop throw, and value per acre. Removal of four leaves resulted in minimal loss of yield (3-12%) and value, but did not consistently eliminate Priming (P) and Lug (X) grades. Alternatively, removal of eight leaves consistently reduced yield (21-30%) and value but generally did eliminate P and X grades. Leaf removal had no effect on leaf chemistry. In addition, economic analyses were conducted to account for all leaf removal scenarios. Profit declined in both the four leaf and eight leaf removal systems by 1,516 and 2,442 USD per hectare, respectively. Research in 2016 and 2017 will evaluate agronomic practices, such as nitrogen application following leaf removal and leaf removal timing, to improve yield when the bottom eight leaves are removed from each plant.