Double curing can boost tobacco profits

If you need extra capacity to handle your stalk-cut tobacco, the first impulse might be to build a new barn.

But over the last 10 years, many dark and burley growers have chosen instead to cure two crops a year in some or all of their curing barns.

“We turned to ‘double’ curing both because there was a lack of structures and also because we were trying to maximize profits,” says Bill Corbin of Springfield Tenn., who grows fire-cured, dark air-cured and burley. “We believe it pays to make extra use of our barns, because normally they are only occupied one or two months a year.”

In 2008, when demand for fire-cured increased unexpectedly, 40 percent of all fire-cured growers in Kentucky and Tennessee double cured at least some of their barns. Demand dropped off in 2009, and fewer barns were double cured, but it is a proven practice for getting more tobacco through a limited number of barns.

To make it work, you have to ensure you have two distinct crops in the field, says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist for Tennessee and Kentucky.

“Try to get the first crop in by May 15 and the second by June 20,” he says. “That should lead to a harvest window so you can start harvesting the first crop in mid- to late August and the second crop in late September.”

Use heat to push that first cure through in no more than five weeks rather than the conventional six or more, says Bailey. “Start firing two or three days after you hang it rather than the normal seven or eight days. Then fire it continuously. As soon as one fire burns out, start up another.”

Artificial moisture will almost certainly have to be used to take down first cure tobacco in a timely manner, says Bailey.

“This can be done with overhead misting systems built into the top of the barn to apply water over the top of the tobacco,” he says. “Or it can be done by applying steam up into the tobacco from the barn floor. Most dark-fired crops will need two applications of misting or steaming to stabilize moisture in the leaf to allow takedown.”

Caution should be used with either artificial moisture source to prevent tobacco from getting too high in order, he says. “Steam or mist only enough to allow the tobacco to be taken down. Additional steaming or misting to allow stripping can be done later on the wagon if needed.”

Use the best barns you have, he adds. Newer metal buildings may be a better choice than older wooden ones.

Some extra management is required at the point of stripping, Bailey says. “Most growers won’t be able to strip the entire first crop at one time because they will have to use their labor force to put in the second crop.”

But you can put the first cure tobacco on scaffold wagons and move it to some covered storage space, then strip it when hanging of the second crop is done.

There may be some expense in building sheds or other roofed structures for storage if needed and possibly acquiring more scaffold wagons, but it will probably cost much less than a new barn. And you may already have unused buildings that would serve the purpose.

For Corbin, the choice of suitable varieties is the key to making double curing work. “If you don’t get variety selection done right, you’ve shot yourself in the foot right at the beginning.”

For the first crop, time to maturity is the first characteristic to look at. “The first crop must thicken as soon after topping as possible,” he says.

But the selection is not large. “There are very few varieties you can set out in April without them blooming out, and that is a disaster for this practice,” he says.

There is one dark fire-cured variety that performs very well in early production. “TN D950 is ready to cut four weeks after topping,” says Corbin. “That is very good compared to other varieties. In fact, TN D950 starts deteriorating about five weeks after topping, so it needs to be harvested quickly.”

US 7318 also performs fairly well, he says. “I have used some and gotten good results.”

But there aren’t many other choices for the first crop.

For the second crop there are quite a few more varieties to choose from. “The options for varieties on the backside are vast,” says Corbin. “One that works real well is Narrow Leaf Madole. Farmers like to leave it out six to eight weeks after topping. It wouldn’t work as an early crop, but it holds on the hill well and that can help out late.”

PD 7309 and PD 7318 and KT D6 and KT D8 are also good late choices, says Corbin, although D8 is not popular with some companies.

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TAGS: Tobacco
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