Since tobacco was deregulated in 2004, burley has moved into the Piedmont of North Carolina, an area where only flue-cured tobacco has traditionally been produced.

Tony Boles of Lawsonville, N.C., who farms with his brother Danny about 40 miles north of Winston-Salem, has been a part of this evolution. Prior to the tobacco buyout, the only tobacco type they had grown was flue-cured. But when they sought contracts for flue-cured for 2005 — the first year tobacco was grown on the free market — they weren’t offered as many pounds as they’d hoped for.

But another option was available.

“Our company said, ‘We don’t need any more flue-cured, but if you would like to plant burley, we can give you a burley contract.’ When we looked into it, it seemed like a good fit for us,” Boles said.

Boles and his brother now grow up to 20 acres of burley a year to go along with 200 acres of flue-cured.

Right from the beginning, burley fit well into the Boles’ flue-cured operation.

Seedlings for both types can be produced in the same greenhouse and set with the same equipment. This season, all 20 acres of burley were planted on April 24, and transplanting of flue-cured began the next day.

They aim to have the burley ready to harvest at the same time the bottom leaves on the flue-cured are ready to be pulled, so these two tasks can be done simultaneously.

Burley is harvested by severing the stalk close to the ground with a hatchet-like knife. Flue-cured is harvested a few leaves at a time, starting with those closest to the ground.

Once the proper maturity is achieved, they begin cutting down the burley at the same time they start pulling bottom flue-cured leaves by hand.

“It is hard to pull bottom primings from flue-cured in the heat of the afternoon,” he said. “So we pull first primings in the morning and switch over in the afternoon to cutting burley, which isn’t as hard to do in hot weather.”

Workers carry the flue-cured leaf to a trailer which takes it to the curing barns. The burley stalks are left on the ground to “wilt” two to four days before being taken to the barn.

“This is a very helpful practice,” said Boles. “After wilting, the tobacco is much lighter and much easier to handle. It loses maybe 20 percent of the original weight.”