Harvest Management 

The Tobacco Growers' Guide contains information on all aspects of tobacco planting and production.  See the topics below or read the Growers' Guide for more information.  

Early Topping

Top tobacco as early as practical. Research has shown a 25 pound per acre decrease in yield for each day that topping is delayed. On-farm tests were conducted at several county locations to measure the effects of topping when fifty percent of the plants had reached the button stage, 1 week later, 2 weeks later, and 3 weeks later.  

Highest yield and value per acre resulted when tobacco was topped early. Topping early produces larger upper leaves, less wind damage, decreased budworm pressure and better drought tolerance.

Timely topping may also reduce chances for late season infection by Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus.

Proper use of contact sucker control agents allows early topping of tobacco. County agent surveys indicate that many producers could improve their yields and quality, as only 70% of the producers are topping at early flower or sooner.

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Ripe tobacco with medium-heavy body and an orange color is preferred by most buyers. Tobacco must be mature before it can ripen. Ripening is a naturally occurring process and should not be confused with the use of coloring agents.

Nitrogen affects the ripening process more than any other factor. Ripeness does not take place until soil nitrogen has been depleted. Late or excessive applications of nitrogen will delay this process. Dry weather may delay the depletion process of nitrogen, resulting in delayed maturity. Growers have allowed tobacco to stay in the field longer in recent years, thus allowing the natural ripening process to take place.

Tobacco should be harvested in three or more stalk positions, as this allows buying companies to select tobacco from various stalk positions to make their blends.

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Mechanization and Curing

From the early development of bulk curing, a few guidelines have always been recommended for successful and efficient curing:

  1. Load the racks or boxes uniformly with quality tobacco.
  2. Maintain an adequate airflow through the tobacco.
  3. Maintain proper control of the curing conditions.
  4. Make sure that your equipment and barn are energy efficient and well maintained.

With the ever-increasing fuel costs and reduced cured leaf prices, it is critical that growers apply these recommended guidelines to increase their curing efficiency. In addition, the heat exchanger retrofit systems require annual adjustments and inspections that are different than those needed by the direct-fired curing systems used in the past. The information provided in the Growers' Guide can help you to make the most efficient use of fuel and electricity while maintaining the highest cured leaf quality.

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The dimensions of the flue cured tobacco bale have been standardized at 42 inches tall, 42 inches wide, and 40 inches deep. The desired weight is 750 pounds with a limit of plus or minus 100 pounds. Some bales over 850 pounds have been rejected. Each bale is to be tied with at least 4 wires. The most widely used wires are 144 inches long. Each bale is to have a cardboard slipsheet on the bottom and partly on two sides. Moisture content should be in the 14 to 16 percent range. Higher moisture content tobacco is easier to compress, but it is more likely to rot within the bale. Moisture meters can be used as a guide to moisture content, but generally they do not give a precise measure of average moisture. Experience is the best guide. If tobacco will keep in a sheet, then it will keep in a bale.

Any equipment that will produce a bale of the size and weight specified will suffice for baling fluecured tobacco. There are numerous manufacturers that sell balers costing anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000. Some growers have constructed balers at little or no significant cost. The goal is to get a bale compressed and tied to meet the desired specifications.

The pressure that it takes to form a bale varies with the speed at which the bale is compressed. Rapid compression such as that used in many of the commercial balers requires up to 40,000 pounds of force to obtain the appropriate density. Get a baler that will fit into your operation.

Buyers look for premium quality. Cleaning the tobacco by sorting out the stalks, grass, and oxidized leaf will improve the desirability of the bale.

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Flue-cured tobacco that is to be carried over needs to be protected from moisture accumulation and insect invasion. The safest environment for storing carry-over tobacco is in racks or boxes in the curing barn. A second choice would be sheet storage in a dry, clean structure with good air circulation around and under the sheet. If storing in bales is necessary, then bales need to be put up dry and stored in a dry place thus maintaining low moisture throughout the winter and spring months to prevent rotting. A burlap covering or something similar will protect the bale from dust accumulation while in storage. Routine inspection of carry-over tobacco is a must, especially in the late spring.

Insect invasion can be a serious problem. During preliminary testing of various storage treatments with carryover tobacco from the 1998 crop, there was one location where no insects were found in any of the tobacco. The conclusion reached is that starting with clean tobacco and storing it in a clean environment reduces the chance of having an insect problem. However, in two other locations, the only tobacco that did not have insects present at the end of the storage season was the fumigated tobacco. The insect free tobacco was fumigated and kept covered throughout the storage period. All other tobacco in the test had some infestation of cigarette beetle at the end of the storage period. There did seem to be some reduction in cigarette beetle infestation in covered tobacco which may have excluded some insects. The best opportunity for successful storage of tobacco on the farm starts with clean, dry tobacco (and keeping it that way) plus providing good air circulation. If it is necessary to fumigate the tobacco then it should be fumigated by a professional. If storing bales is necessary, place the bales on pallets with adequate spacing to allow good air circulation.

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