Strip-Tillage Production Systems for Tobacco

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Virginia Tech

Conservation tillage production systems for flue-cured tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) have been studied for many years. Inadequate chemical weed control and lack of acceptable pesticide and fertilizer application resulted in consistently lower yields and inferior cured leaf quality. The development of new conservation tillage equipment, improved methods of fertilizer application, and new herbicides, have resulted in a renewed interest in conservation tillage labeled for tobacco. This research investigated management practices to address slow early season growth characteristic of strip-tillage tobacco production. Objectives of the first study were to evaluate the methods of starter fertilizer application and determine the optimal rate. A transplant water treatment (11 kg ha⁻¹) and 3 rates (11, 22, and 45 kg ha⁻¹) of injected 9-45-15 (N:P₂O₅:K₂O) water soluble starter fertilizer were evaluated for early season plant growth and time of topping. Starter fertilizer treatments increased tobacco root weight by 22% and leaf area up to 41%. Earlier topping was observed as a result of starter fertilizer with 23 and 6% more plants topped during the initial topping date in 1999 and 2000, respectively. Starter fertilizer did not consistently increase the yield of either strip-tillage or conventional tillage tobacco.

The objectives of the second study were to compare the use of raised beds with flat-planting and investigate cover crop residue management techniques. Residue management treatments minimized residue within the strip-tilled area with an early hooded spray application (strip-killed) of a burndown herbicide as opposed to the traditional broadcast burndown application. The use of raised beds for strip-tillage production of tobacco showed no clear benefit when compared to flat-planting. Strip-tillage plots were similar to conventional tillage for cured leaf quality and yield. Early season strip-kill burndown herbicide applications proved beneficial in reducing difficulties incorporating residue into the strip-tilled area thus improving the quality of the prepared seed bed.

This research has added to the present knowledge regarding strip-tillage tobacco production, and refined necessary cultural practices. Transplant starter fertilizer is recommended to overcome the typical slow early season growth characteristic of strip-tilled tobacco. However, increased rates (greater than 11 kg ha⁻¹) or under-row injection of the material had no added benefit. The research also demonstrated that the use of raised beds should not be considered a necessary practice with the use of a strip-till implement that incorporates under-row subsoil tillage. This research has demonstrated that tobacco yields and quality comparable to conventional tillage can be realized using strip-tillage production techniques.

residue management, starter fertilizer, conservation tillage