The question most often asked throughout the flue-cured tobacco area this winter was, “Will growers need new curing barns if they plant a substantially larger crop?”

For David Reed, Virginia Extension tobacco specialist, the answer is easy.

“We don't have enough curing capacity now,” he told Southeast Farm Press in December. “Much of the 2012 flue-cured crop here — perhaps 25 percent — was cured in October, mainly because the farmers didn't have enough barns to cure any faster.”

To have tobacco in the field that late is not managerially sound, he said.

“Historically, we get a killing frost in the flue-cured area around Oct. 15,” Reed said. “It has come later the last few years, but that is not going to last. We need to be able to harvest all of our crop before that historical frost date.”

In other words, Reed thinks more new barns need to be brought into use even if production stays the same. And if it rises, even more barns will have to be acquired.

So it is no wonder that manufacturers of bulk barns went into high gear over the winter to meet the demand from farmers.

If you decide to buy a new barn, make it as efficient as possible, said Reed. “Look for a unit that can give 11 to 12 pounds of cured leaf per gallon of fuel,” he said. “It should have automatic curing control built in rather than retrofitted in, and it should be as well insulated as it possibly can be.”

He also strongly advises insulating the barn pad. “We can demonstrate that you can recoup the costs in one year,” he said. “There aren't many things in agriculture that pay back that quickly.”

Where to buy barns

A number of companies are building bulk barns on order this season.

Among them are:

• Carolina Tobacco Services of Bennettsville, S.C. Call Dale Hutchins at 843-479-3804 or go to http://www.tobaccoequipment.com.

• Long Tobacco Barn Company LLC in Tarboro, N.C. Call Bob Pope at 252-824-3794.

• Taylor Manufacturing of Elizabethtown, N.C. Call Ron Taylor at 800-545-2293.

• MarCo Mfg. of Bennettsville, S.C.

Call Tom Pharr at 843-479-3377 or see the website at http://marcomfgllc.us/.

• Tytun Ltd. of Simcoe, Ontario, Canada. Call 519-428-0044or see the website http://www.tytun.ca.


• DeCloet SRL, Italy. Call Len Erdelac at 519-983-0432 in Ontario or go to http://www.decloet.it.

• World Tobacco, Inc., of Wilson, N.C. Call Billy Price at  252-230-1032 or go to http://www.worldtob.com.

Air-curing efficiency

Maximum curing efficiency will be just as important for the air-cured types burley and dark air-cured. 

Willis Jepsoof Orlinda, Tenn., who grows dark air-cured and has grown burley, has made significant improvements in his air-curing barns recently to get a more efficient cure.

“We have built four new multi-tier barns in the last few years,” said Jepson. “Each is 48 feet wide and 72 feet long. They hold five acres, with sheds on either side of the main alleys, two sheds per barn. There are three tiers in the sheds and five in the main alleyways.”

The barns are wood frame and have doors all the way around the bottom. “They draw real well,” he said.

Compared to his old barns, the vertical spacing has been extended between tier poles to five feet apart, to improve air flow.

 “In our old barns, the tier poles are three feet apart,” he said. “That's too close. We had to leave one tier out for adequate air circulation.”

Another addition to his curing program in recent years is a new stripping room that is closer to his  barns for added efficiency. It is heated and has more space to work. But it doesn't have humidity control. “We spray water over-top if we have to,” he said.

The changes in design he has made on his dark new air-cured barns would be equally applicable to structures for burley, and in fact Jepson could use these barns for burley if he were so inclined.

But that is not likely, he said.

“We grew one crop of burley after the buyout, and we didn’t do well with it,” he said. “We had a chance to go up on dark air-cured plantings the next year, and we decided to stop growing burley at that time.”

In 2012, his farm had a total of 85 acres of tobacco — 55 of dark air-cured and 30 of fire-cured — along with substantial acreages of corn, soybeans and wheat.

One thing that won't change: Because delivering his contracted pounds is so important, Jepson doesn’t feel he can rely on rainfall to produce his crop.

“We've had to irrigate every year since 2007 except for 2009,” he said. “We use hard-hose reel, and we draw water from the nearby Red River.”

Curing efficiency and irrigation are the two areas the Jepsons have really concentrated on in recent years because they affect yield so much, he said.

chrisbickers@gmail.com