When burley tobacco first began to be grown in areas of North Carolina and Virginia where it had not traditionally been produced, it was thought the new farmers would not want to harvest using the traditional labor-intensive method.

That method revolves around cutting the burley plant close to the ground, spearing them on a stick, then hanging the loaded stick in the barn to cure in the air.

It’s a lot of work, and one university researcher predicted flatly, “If burley is going to come to eastern North Carolina (the Piedmont and Coastal Plain), it cannot be put on a stick. People aren’t going to work like that.”

Several different types of harvest mechanization were proposed.

But Bobby Baker of Ellisboro, N.C., in the North Carolina Piedmont near Greensboro, who has experimented with all the harvesting methods available in five seasons of burley production, says the old-fashioned way is the best.

“I have found ‘spearing’ on sticks to be much faster than the other options,” he says. “And my workers like the stick better.”

Mechanical burley harvesters called notcher-cutters are available that have been proven to be functional in the field. They cut off the stalk close to the ground, notch it and convey it to a cart or trailer for transportation to a wire-strung curing facility.