Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the racks is their minimal depreciation. In a volatile market, producers' contracts can be reduced or eliminated each year or some producers may decide to voluntarily exit the business. If this happens, they can resell the pallet racks on the used pallet rack market or to other tobacco growers and recoup most of their purchase costs.

"The racks are comparable in cost to building a barn, but you can sell these structures, whereas you can't sell a barn," Wilhoit said.

He said this was one of the reasons the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, which funded the project, initially approached him about the structures. The association began doing their own trials with the pallet racks a year before.

While the racks have their advantages, one disadvantage Wilhoit has found is an uneven load on the rack can cause the structure to collapse. Producers should make sure the structures are braced properly on level ground and have pads on the bottom to prevent the legs from sinking into the ground. As with other outside tobacco curing structures, producers need to securely fasten the plastic covering to withstand strong winds.

In addition to his work with the pallet racks, Wilhoit is in the preliminary stages of a study involving a new tobacco-harvesting concept where the producers hang sticks of tobacco directly on wooden rails held atop wagons pulled through the field. When the rails are full of tobacco, growers can transfer them to a field curing structure, eliminating a substantial portion of the labor required for hanging tobacco. While the trials are ongoing, he said this concept has the potential to significantly cut harvesting labor costs.