Desirable Tobacco

Dear Betty,

Evaporation 20th to 26th December 1-16, 5-6, 6, 5-7 ,5, 5, 5 While on the subject of weather, I read that parts of England have had 4 times their average December rain. I don’t know what that means in Choma terms (I hope to look it up before next week’s blog) but four times the average sounds scary.

With this drier than average season it is going to be a challenge to grow really desirable tobacco to repair our reputation with China. I have had to remind myself that we are all in this together: even if two out of the three merchants buy and market a high quality crop, if the third one should stumble, it could be enough for the Chinese to walk away. I have been alarmed by the attitude of some farmers, who don’t seem to take the problem as seriously as we should. If we use a chemical that is not approved, and if the Chinese find it (even at levels way below the accepted levels) it will be proof to them that we do not have control over our production and that too might be enough of an excuse for them to walk away. I really believe this is the year we may have to forego some profit to be CERTAIN of producing an acceptable product. If there is a chemical out there that you are tempted to use, but which is not on the approved list, fight to get it approved for next year, but don’t use it this year in the hope that you can ‘get away with it’. Evidence of non-approved use may be all that it takes.

Having said that, I think it is not too late to discuss (and modify) the recommendations on late top-dressings. I gather Michelle du Toit (who, after all, knows her tobacco) is recommending late top dressing of Calcium nitrate on certain varieties as a remedy for K and Z styles. This contradicts the TAZ guidelines for this year. Now there is no danger of residues from Calcium nitrate, so residues is not the issue – it is the smoking quality of the leaf produced. I think we all agree that a late top-dressing should be nitrate based, which leaves us with Calcium, Potassium, Sodium and Ammonia nitrate. I am not sure is Sodium nitrate is even available and the Ammonia might give too much N, too late, as the Ammonia has to first change to nitrate before it can be utilised by the plant.

So, Calcium versus Potassium nitrate? And how does that ‘remedy’ compare with reaping riper, curing more slowly and anything else we can try? Of course a trial would help us to learn, but doing a trial on the micro-scale that I do my trials would probably give us an indeterminant result and is also very difficult to do – following leaves through the whole curing/grading/selling process. This is very crucial knowledge and I hope we can get better, clearer guidelines before it is too late.

Best for now,

Bruce

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