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Tennessee tobacco production practices continue to advance

Despite the declining number of tobacco producers resulting from the Federal buyout of quota, the traditional crop remains among the top cash-producing commodities in Tennessee and other states known for their tobacco production.

Land-grant institutions, including the University of Tennessee, continue to assist producers’ in their efforts to successfully grow and market tobacco.

With support from tobacco companies, including Philip Morris USA (PM USA), researchers with the UT Agricultural Experiment Station and UT Extension are working to meet producers’ and manufacturers’ needs for high-quality tobacco crops.

A luncheon celebrated the continuing partnership between PM USA and UTIA. The company honored the UT research and Extension personnel participating in approximately $145,000 of new research and education efforts designed to ensure that producers remain successful.

Brian Leib, associate professor of biosystems engineering and soil science, Hubert Savoy, UT Extension soil fertility specialist, and graduate student Eric Caldwell were among those attending the luncheon.

The team is working on a two-year, $91,000 grant examining the use of fertigation to provide better control of soil nutrient levels throughout the growing season. Fertigation refers to applying fertilizer through the use of an irrigation system.

Building on UT research that supports irrigation as a means to stabilize tobacco production levels, Leib believes fertigation can reduce the uncertainty involved in standard fertilization practices. “We believe fertigation will require less nitrogen to produce a high-yielding tobacco crop,” he says.

Leib predicts that an added benefit to fertigation will be reduced nitrosamine levels and higher quality tobacco leaves. Tobacco-specific nitrosamine (TSNA) is one of the major groups of chemical carcinogens linked to consumer tobacco use and cancer. “Fertigation reduces the risk of excess soil nitrogen while irrigation prevents drought stress. Both can cause extra nitrate in tobacco leaves at harvest,” Leib says.

Less fertilizer and a consistent, high-quality product should lead to greater profits for tobacco producers. Fertigation should also reduce non-point source pollution associated with tobacco production, Leib says.

Other members of Leib’s research team were also honored at the luncheon, including Paul Denton, a tobacco specialist in the department of plant sciences, and research site superintendents Barry Sims and Rob Ellis, of the UT Highland Rim and Greeneville Research and Education Centers, respectively.

With the remaining funds from the grant, PM USA is sponsoring work to develop a kit that farmers could use to test plant nitrate in the field as well as two internships at the UT Highland Rim and Greeneville Research and Education Centers. The interns will work in both crop and animal production operations.

Over the years, the company has also provided significant support for UT’s tobacco breeding program, which is directed by plant scientist Bob Miller, who now holds a joint appointment with UT and the University of Kentucky.

David Conner, manager of agricultural programs for PM USA, represented the company at the luncheon. He says the company is pleased to continue its partnership with UT’s research and Extension resources as part of the company’s efforts to provide high-quality tobacco products.

Also recognized at the luncheon were scientists and students participating in other Philip Morris-funded projects. Justin Bryant, a graduate student in plant sciences, is examining cover crop management in conservation tillage tobacco. Michael Waynick, also a graduate student in plant sciences, is working on the effects of nitrogen fertilization rates and timing on tobacco yield and TSNA content. These projects are sponsored through the PM USA Tobacco Extension Training Grants and directed by UT Extension tobacco specialist Paul Denton.

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