Local News

Tobacco Farmers Singing Blues Over Mold

Posted June 14, 1998

— The political struggle in Washington isn't the only thing tobacco farmers have to cope with this year. The dreaded blue mold has turned up in parts of North Carolina. Farmers are trying to cut the fungus off before it affects their bottom lines.

In spite of its political troubles, tobacco is N.C.'s biggest moneymaker for farmers such as Bubba Sauls. That's why the yellowish brown circles are so costly. For the second straight year, blue mold has turned up in Greene and Lenoir Counties.

"What you do have, it'll do right much damage to the quality of your tobacco, and it's hard to cure and sell, too," says Sauls.

Every few years, the airborne fungus blows into N.C. from Georgia and Florida. Left untreated, it can make expensive leaves unsaleable.

"It keeps spreading, reproducing spores and can affect the whole plant. This makes the plant very light. It also makes a leaf that tobacco buyers don't want to buy," says Louie Johnson, agricultural agent for Greene County.

Experts say the fungus thrives in a moist, cool environment, and if the weather's right it can easily cross county lines. On the other hand, dry, hot days can slow it dramatically.

"Even that isn't a guarantee because temperatures can vary so much within a field. Out here in the open, it can be 90 to 95 degrees and dry, but under here it can be much wetter and up to 10 degrees cooler,"

So far, blue mold has not turned up in neighboring Wilson, Wayne or Edgecombe Counties. Sauls and other farmers are treating their affected fields now, trying to keep the fungus from spreading, and trying to keep their biggest moneymaker from wilting away.

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