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May, 2007

Burley survives Easter freeze

Knoxville - An unseasonable spring freeze that set over much of the tobacco belt on April 8 (Easter morning), caused considerable damage to plants in parts of the flue-cured states Georgia and South Carolina.

But tobacco specialists in the two major burley states of Tennessee and Kentucky said that because virtually all the crop was still in the greenhouse when the freeze struck, there was little plant injury.

"Unheated greenhouses and outdoor floatbeds had some damage in the cold weather, but we lost surprisingly few plants," said Paul Denton, Tennessee Extension tobacco agronomist.

In Kentucky, most plants were in greenhouses which had supplemental heat at the time of the freeze. The weather had been unseasonably warm in March, then the Easter freeze.

"We had some salt damage to plants from the early heat," said Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. "There may be a bit of a shortfall of transplants. But as people begin to finish up in late May, I think we will see a few more transplants become available."

It could have been much worse. "Actually, we were fortunate," said Pearce. "Tobacco fared pretty well compared to other Kentucky commodities. It wasn't a 'wipe out for us,' and it was for many of the others."

In Tennessee, which lies farthest south of any of the significant burley-producing states, a little of the burley crop had been planted west of Nashville by the end of April. But transplanting didn't get under way in earnest in the rest of the state until May 1.

Some Kentucky burley had been set out around May 1, said Pearce. He expected about 10% of the crop to be in the field by the end of the first full week of May.

Pearce noted one problem in early May. "We are seeing plants with chill injury," he said. "We are ready to transplant, and some of the plants have ground suckers already."

This makes for a difficult start for the plant, he said. "If it goes under any more stress in the field, it can get full-fledged ground suckers that can be a problem after topping."

There is a tactic for dealing with this situation. Pearce recommends that a farmer set his plants as deep in the soil as possible. "That can suppress ground suckers if you cover them up. Push as much dirt around the base of the plant as you can."

Pearce expects a slight increase in burley plantings in Kentucky this season.

"Last year, we had 72,000 to 73,000 acres," he said. "This season, the US Department of Agriculture projects 77,000 acres, a 5% increase."

After the shuffle, who's growing burley?
Farmers who grew burley last year don't appear to be accounting for most of the increase, said Pearce. Instead, it is coming from growers who elected not to grow tobacco in the first two years after the buyout but are now getting back into the crop.

Plantings of burley in Kentucky will take place in roughly the same areas as in 2006 after considerable movement the two previous seasons.

"There has been a westward shift of burley plantings," said Pearce. "But that movement seems to have stabilized for now."

Eastern Tennessee, a mountainous area famous for its small-scale, high-quality growers, continues to decline in burley production, as do the neighboring areas of North Carolina and Virginia, but there has been some increase in middle Tennessee just east of Nashville, said Denton. This is a traditional burley area.

But in the areas north and west of Nashville [extending into western Kentucky] where dark tobacco types have been the dominant types, there has been little enthusiasm for increased burley production, although increases had generally been predicted. This probably reflects the fact that since deregulation, prices for the dark types have competed well with burley.

The big post-buyout shifts in location of burley in Tennessee are over, said Denton. The areas that are growing it now will probably continue growing it as long as prices are attractive.

Burley growers like barns in Tennessee
In other developments among burley growers:

-The clothesline-like outdoor curing structures that characterized Tennessee burley production are beginning to fade away.

"We have moved away from field-curing structures in the last few years," Denton said. Farmers prefer conventional barns, and "because of the reduced acreage we plant now, we have enough barns to cure the crop," he said.

Nevertheless, a few new conventional barns being built in middle Tennessee where burley plantings are increasing, he said. Often they have multiple tiers rather than the single tier approach of the outdoor structures.

In Kentucky, too, some new curing facilities are being built in the growth area of western Kentucky, said Pearce. In contrast to Tennessee, outdoor curing structures are still seem popular in this state, which is where the concept was developed in the mid-'90s.

-The hot news in American burley now may be in the area of varieties.

"Tennessee 90 has been the number one variety in this state for many years, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is displaced this year by [the new variety] Kentucky-Tennessee (KT) 204," he said. "We could see 40% to 50% of our acreage in KT 204 in 2007."

Next year, a sister variety to KT 204 called KT 206 will become commercially available, and Denton says it may be even more with farmers. - (Bickers).

Production short in rainy season
Buenos Aires - Rains that fell almost the whole growing season reduced burley production by an estimated 19% from last season's total of 52 mn kgs and 22% from the original target for this season of 54 mn kgs, said a recent report from Universal Leaf.

The northeastern province of Misiones, where most of Argentina's export burley is produced, suffered worst. The northwestern province of Tucuman, the other major burley province, had a substantial shortfall also. If these estimates are correct, that would put all burley production in Argentina in 2007 at about 42 mn kgs.

Burley harvest was complete in March. In April, Misiones leaf was reported ripe, tan to tannish-red in color and slightly thinner than last year, with fewer flyings, than in previous crops. The crop is similar in Tucuman, but some burley there had to be harvested unripe because of plant drowning and subsequent replanting caused by excessive rainfall early in the season.

Of the two significant flue-cured provinces, Salta, which lies just north of Tucuman in the northwestern corner of the country, also received excessive rainfall. Its neighbor to the east, Jujuy, suffered hail losses. The result was estimated flue-cured production of 83 mn kgs, almost 9% less than the original crop projection of 91 mn pounds.

Flue-cured harvest was substantially complete at the end of March. Buying was expected to be done soon. Quality is reportedly similar to last year's crop, but with less fourth and fifth quality and immature tobacco. - (Bickers)

Leaf production down
Tillsonburg - A survey of growers in Canada's only significant tobacco province indicated that the volume of this year's crop will likely fall in the range of 31 to 36 mn pounds, said Fred Neukamm, chairman of the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers' Marketing Board.

Farmers still hope for a buyout of quota, although the federal minister of agriculture ruled such strategy out earlier this month. A further complication is that the cooperative has not been able to negotiate a crop target with the industry.

As a result of this turmiol, Neukamm told a local newspaper that production will probably closer to the lower end of the range. "We have no confidence in the upper end of the range," Neukamm said to the Tillsonburg News. - (Bickers)

Leaf production down 12% in Pinar del Rio
Havana - Production of leaf in the Cuban province Pinar del Rio dropped 12% in 2007 from 2006 because of excessive rain, the Associated Press reported in May.

Quoting the Communist Party newspaper Granma, the news service said only about 47,880 acres instead of the planned 53,090 acres had been harvested because of the increased humidity. It also said that Cuban officials have already begun efforts to hire 11,700 workers for the next tobacco harvest. - (Bickers)

Zacapa leaf quality good
Guatemala City - Harvest of Guatemalan burley is complete, and receiving of all tobaccos was expected to be completed by May 23, said Universal Leaf.

Crop quality was reportedly good, particularly leaf from the Zacapa Valley, the first growing region to deliver.

The crop size estimate has been reduced somewhat but is still close to 11 mn kgs, down about 9% from 2006. - (Bickers)

Latin America
Price increase help cigarette profits
Mexico City - Recently released first quarter performance reports from British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI) shed light on recent developments in Latin America.

- In Argentina, there was some recovery from the recent severe price competition in the first quarter of 2007, said BAT. The company said its profit in Argentina rose as prices increased, although its volumes were lower than last year.

Philip Morris International (PMI), which also does business in Argentina, said its shipments there grew 9.8%. Its share of the market was up 4.7 points to 68.5%, thanks to the continued growth of the Philip Morris brand, it said. The total market in Argentina was up 2.3%, it said.

- In Mexico, shipments by the Philip Morris affiliate were down 6.3%, reflecting increased trade purchases in the fourth quarter of 2006 ahead of a 2007 tax increase. However, PM market share grew 0.7 points in the first quarter to 62.3%, driven by the launch of Delicados Supremos in January 2007 and the continued growth of Benson & Hedges.

Industry volume in Mexico suffered following excise-driven price increases early in the quarter, according to BAT. This, together with the exchange rate, resulted in a much reduced profit.

- In Chile, BAT said its volumes grew slightly. Coupled with price increases and strong up-trading to the Kent and Lucky Strike brands, BAT enjoyed a higher profit in the first quarter.

- In Venezuela, BAT said its profit increased due to price increases, as well as higher volumes and improved market share. The Belmont and Consul brands performed well for the company.

- In Central America and the Caribbean, BAT said its profit was down. Margins were higher and product sourcing was more efficient but these factors were more than offset by the impact of exchange rates. Also, in some markets, excise and price increases resulted in lower volumes. - (Bickers)

Taiwan, Alliance One looking to Malawian tobacco
Blantyre - Taiwanese ambassador to Malawi, James Chuang says this year his country will buy tobacco directly from farmers, saying in the past Taiwanese companies used tender process to buy the leaf.

Chuang said Taiwanese companies have been impressed with the Malawian leaf in the past and said more companies this year will be buying tobacco from the country, which will lead to the boosting of the country's foreign exchange.

He also conceded that many Taiwanese companies have found it difficult to buy commodities from Malawi because the importation costs are extremely high as Malawi is a land-locked country.

Taiwan is not the only international body interested in Malawi. Alliance One Tobacco Company Limited has invested over US$ 517,857 to construct a new processing plant in the Malawi capital Lilongwe.

The expansion program the company has embarked would see the plant turning into the most effective tobacco processing plant in Africa.

It is said once the construction work would be through the plant would boast the processing capacity of threshing lines, hand stemming facilities with a daily capacity of 20 tonnes.

Alliance One managing director, Allistair Craik said the move would help his company to shift from Mozambique where they were processing their tobacco purchased in Malawi.

"The work would be completed within the next 12 months and the company would end up having the biggest and [most] efficient tobacco processing factory on the continent," Craik viewed.

He went on to say the development would attract more tobacco buyers to Malawi burley tobacco.

Malawi's Ministry of Industry and Trade, Dr Ken Lipenga viewed the investment as a true manifestation, confidence and trust the private sector has in the government of Malawi and the country as a whole.

Dry season crop impresses
Tepic - Through April 10, three quarters of the dry season crop had been harvested, and 12% had been received, according to Universal Leaf.

Overall quality expectations continued to be good, with the quality of early-received tobacco good to excellent.

Universal's estimate of all burley production in Mexico remained at 11 mn kgs. - (Bickers)

Weather varies by province
Tete - Reaping ended in April in the province of Tete, where late-planted crops had struggled to fill out due to the heavy rains during the season, said Universal Leaf.

In the Northern Provinces, wet weather hampered reaping and curing, but all was expected to be complete by the end of April.

In Manica Province, the early-planted crop was of good quality due to favorable growing conditions, and the commercial crop looked good also.

The national crop size was estimated at 42 mn kgs (all burley), up slightly from earlier estimates but about 9% below 2006. - (Bickers)

Tobacco International - May, 2007

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