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Tobacco growers fight to keep weeds and weed seed out of cured leaf

The wet spring in Georgia resulted in an exceptionally heavy germination of weed seeds and a heavy population of  weeds to plague the 2014 tobacco crop.  While many growers have successfully controlled weeds in their crop there are a few that have not gotten the message that the market for US produced tobacco depends on tobacco that is free of weeds as well as weed seed.

In 2013, inspection of purchased bales prior to export found weed seed of 17 different species.  The purchaser of this tobacco indicated the presence of weed seed was unacceptable.

Normal weed management strategies include the use of soil applied herbicides prior to and at transplanting as well as cultivation.  Escaped grass growing in tobacco prior to the final cultivation can be controlled with timely application of Poast herbicide.  An additional herbicide (Aim) application following the first harvest can assist in controlling newly emerging broadleafed weed seedlings.  This application can be made with spray tips attached behind the harvester defoliators and directed toward the top of the bed or using spray hoods suspended from a high clearance sprayer.

However, weeds and grass that escape control using herbicides and cultivation require the use of a hoe or must be pulled when they are small.  Weeds growing around the end of tobacco fields can also cause problems as weeds pass through the tobacco harvesters.  Weed parts and seeds can contaminate the green tobacco being harvested by the machines. Turn areas around tobacco fields should be kept clean of weeds to promote safety and reduce contamination of the harvested tobacco.  Fields that are kept clean of weeds during the production season will have less weeds to be of concern when harvest begins.  Less weeds mean less weed seed and less problems for next year’s crop.

Weeds and weed seed are considered Non-Tobacco Related Foreign Material (NTRM) and like plastic, paper, soil, rocks and metal objects are not acceptable by purchasing companies.  All tobacco growers should make extra efforts to produce tobacco which is free of weeds and to ensure that weeds do not contaminate cured leaf offered for sale.