This Year’s Tobacco Crop Starts Now

Posted On February 19, 2024— Written By and last updated by
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Summer fields full of tobacco are a familiar sight for those who have grown up in the Sandhills region. However, some folks who are newer to the area may not be aware of how these tobacco plants get their start. Tobacco is a unique “row crop”, in that unlike corn, soybeans or cotton, it is actually started from seed in a greenhouse and transplanted into the field as a small plant. Below, I have provided an overview of the steps involved in getting that tobacco transplant ready to go into the field.

By this time, tobacco seed varieties have been selected and the beginning of a new crop is starting to emerge. Tobacco transplants are started in a float tray as a small seed in the greenhouse where it takes about 60 days for a seed to go from smaller than the tip of a pen to a suitable transplant. Before the seeds are introduced to the greenhouse, the float water is tested to make sure it has suitable levels of nutrients. Fertilizer is applied based on lab recommendations and the trays are cleaned by using steam to kill any harmful pathogens. Once the sterilization process is complete, tobacco farmers sow seeds into a growing medium during sunny days and control the temperature of their greenhouses to promote uniform germination. 

Nighttime temperatures in the greenhouse are regulated between 68 and 70 degrees with daytime temperatures fluctuating between 68 and 86 degrees. It is important for the temperatures not to drop too rapidly at night due to the risk of cold injury on these young and tender plants. As the plants grow, they are clipped by using mowers to achieve stem uniformity and transplant hardiness. The clipped material is then removed in an effort to decrease the chances of collar rot and other potential diseases. After about two months in the greenhouse, the plants are large and hearty enough to be transplanted into the field. 

This is a brief overview of what tobacco farmers are up to this time of year as they prepare for another busy growing season. If you have any questions or would like to learn more give me a call at North Carolina Cooperative Extension- Lee County Center at 919-775-5624. 

Jared Butler is the Agriculture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.