Again, the Vernons came up with a solution that made use of materials that were already on the farm.

“We take a hammer and drive nails into the stalks, then hang the nails over the wires,” he said. “We will have four or five men nailing while three men are hanging.”

The Vernons' greenhouses are 30 feet wide and 96 feet long. Each can hold 10 panels and produce enough plants for two to 2.5 acres in the field. They are still using the houses to grow plants in, but they have had to make some modifications for curing. The main one has to do with reducing direct light on curing leaf.

“During the curing season, we put black plastic over the clear plastic that covers the greenhouses,” he said. “But that comes back off when the curing is done.”

They also cure a little of their burley in an old unused dairy lounging barn. “We strung the lounge with high tensile electric fence wire,” he said. “The posts in that structure are sturdy enough to hold it. We have just one tier, just as in the greenhouses.”

But instead of using nails, the workers cut a notch in the stalk using the hatchet they harvested it with.

“Once you learn how, it is not that hard to hand notch,” said Vernon. “The biggest thing is turning your hand in the notching motion to angle the notch right. Our Mexican workers catch on fast.”

Once it is cured, the leaf is stripped in the greenhouse or dairy barn, then is moved elsewhere for baling.

The Vernons have wound up with some unusual looking curing space, but they believe they have obtained it for a reasonable cost.

“We were looking for a low-cost facility to cure burley, and it seemed there was nothing else as low cost as what we already had on the farm,” Vernon said.

In 2012, they raised 15 acres of burley along with 65 acres of flue-cured. To the extent possible, they manage the burley so that it can be ready for harvest in slow periods in the flue-cured harvest.

If more barn space is needed,burley farmers will most likely first seek unused, existing barns rather than build new ones, said Daniel Green, chief operating officer of the Burley Stabilization Corporation in Springfield, Tenn.

"It takes a lot to build a conventional barn, and although the outlook for burley is good, there is a lot of uncertainty in the short-term," he said.

There are many unused barns remaining from the years when growers produced much more than they will in 2013. Unfortunately, they are frequently not in the areas where growers are expanding.

If a demand arises for new curing facilities this year, Paul Denton, Kentucky-Tennessee Extension tobacco specialist, doesn't think it will be met with traditional tall barns.

"I think that outdoor curing structures or low-profile barns would be better choices,” he said. “You would want the lowest possible initial cost."

Denton commented that driving a nail in each stalk before hanging seems like a high labor approach to hanging stalks. “But it would be easy work,” he said. “It might not be so bad if you could come up with a nail gun to do the same thing quicker.”

Denton called it an interesting alternative. “It has low capital cost and is easy and safe for workers.”

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