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.
“But this year I am afraid harvest is going to be late,” he said in late July. ”It was very dry so far. The heat and lack of water really took a toll on the burley. Some was just coming into top late in July.”
That was a change from the past. “All five of our previous crops have developed in a timely manner,” he says.
Once his burley is on sticks, Baker hangs them in a three-tiered pole barn. It has a permanent roof but is open on the sides. He covers the sides of the barn with plastic once he loads it.
If he needs additional curing space, he also has a one-tier outdoor curing structure that he can hang sticks in and cover with plastic.
The same migrant crew works on both types in the field.
In the barn, he usually has a four-man burley stripping crew. Each takes one stalk position and passes the stalk down with a conveyor belt made from an old flue-cured tobacco looper. They drop the leaf into boxes behind them and bale when the boxes are full.
Through July, irrigation was the most important practice on Baker’s farm. “We irrigate with portable pipe and sprinklers,” he says. “We have three ponds and have already depleted two of them. We won’t have enough water if this drought continues.”
He might purchase a reel-type traveling gun for 2011. “That would really conserve the water.”
One other change for 2011 may be in his choice of flue-cured variety. He is experimenting this year with seven acres of the new flue-cured variety CC 35, which is said to have the best holding ability of any variety on the market.
“I have seen it on other farms,” he says. “It will sit on the land and wait.”
He hopes it will provide extra time in harvesting and help with barn utilization.
He was forced to reduce burley plantings because of lower contract demand.
“We are down three or maybe four acres,” he says. “We went from 12 acres in 2009 down to about nine. We still have close to 60 acres of flue-cured, which is about the same as last year.”