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Old 19-02-2003, 04:03 PM
Judy and Dave G
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Default Has anyone ever grown tobacco?

Sorry, didn't see the original post, tacking on to this one. ;o}

"Dr. Rev. Chuck, M.D. P.A." wrote in message
jammer wrote:

On Tue, 18 Feb 2003 05:22:43 -0600, wrote:


No, but here are some links that may help you. My cousin tried it and
didn't like it.

Smoking tobaccos are blends, such as burley and bright used in American
cigarettes. Straight varieties are somewhat wanting in taste.

Hi all gardening friends.

Background on growing tobacco in general.

We live in Kentucky and have a tobacco base on our farm. The tobacco base
means that a farm has been assigned a certain number of pounds of tobacco
that it is permitted to grow for sale. The tobacco sales are usually made
to big tobacco companies. Some tobacco farmers have bases of over 500,000
pounds and this is what the do for a living. Other tobacco farmers, like
us, do not have large bases, usually under 4,000 pounds. We can sometimes
made enough $ on these small bases to pay our real estate taxes, if we are
lucky. Sometimes the big farmers will lease a small farmer's base and add
it to his own. The number of pounds that a farm can grow is limited only by
the land. We have 60 acres. At least 40 of them are on the hillside. Not
a good place to grow tobacco. So the government has assigned us a
permissible growing amount as 19,000 pounds. But we can only grow more than
the 4,000 base if we lease someone else's base. Kentucky is known in the
tobacco world as growing really good burley tobacco. We have bottomland
that is wonderful for tobacco and it usually grows the burley better than
other types of land, such as ridgetop. The amount of $ you get for your
tobacco crop is based upon the quality of it, or the grade. You take your
tobacco allotment to the tobacco warehouse. Tobacco is sold by auction at
these warehouses. In these economic times, an average price for middle of
the road to good tobacco is about $1.70/pound.

Tobacco uses a lot of fertilizer to make good leaves. The cost of the
fertilizer is by the ton and bought from a farm and seed dealer that rents
you a 'buggy' to take the fertilizer home and spread it. The buggy is a
large (size of a full size van) bin made of some king of metal. The dealer
measures your order into it and then you pay and take it to the field. Good
farmers usually get a soil test done every other year or so to determine the
amount of fertilizer and how much of each, i.e. 10-10-10, is needed to grow
the tobacco. Tobacco has specific diseases that you have to spray to
protect from. Also many bugs that harm tobacco plants. Also have to spray
for the bugs. Chemicals that are permitted to be applied to the tobacco is
limited and approved by the FDA.

Now, to the growing part.

In order to get a crop in the ground, cured, packed and to the auction in
time, growers start their seeds in hotbeds, water beds (hydroponic) or
greenhouses. Some people make a living just selling tobacco seedlings. The
seedling is permitted to grow to about a 12 inch size before it is
transplanted. If the weather is too cold, wet, or whatever, these growers
will use a type of lawn mower and go over their seedling beds to keep the
seedlings to a manageable size. Manageable means able to be put into a
tobacco planter and automatedly planted. The tobacco planter requires
someone to ride along on it and place the plants in the cups as it comes
around empty after putting the first plant in the ground. The planter also
has a blade in the front to make the furrow and a hoe type thing on the back
to pack and firm the soil around the plant. I have heard that there are
totally automated planters, never have seen one.

OK, so you start your seed like any other garden seed.

Preparing the land. The location of the plot is important. You want good
fertile land with a good breeze. The land that is used for tobacco is
usually planted with a cover crop in the autumn after the tobacco has been
harvested. The cover crop is cut and turned under at least 4 weeks prior to
placing the plants in. Depends on the type of cover crop and how long it
takes to break down in the soil. Once the cover is broken down, the grower
discs the land (tills with a fine tractor attachment). The fertilizer is
usually added at this time. Any systemic bug killer or disease preventer
may be added at this time. Well, spread out and then turned under. Some
tobacco treatments, such as for Blue Mold, costs about $170.00 per quart. I
think a quart treats an acre if the disease is not present and it is just a
preventative measure.

Once the tobacco is set (planted in the ground) you pray for rain. Just
like any crop. If you don't get rain, you have to water. Usually growers
use like a 2000 gallon tank on their tractor to water. Once the tobacco is
established, you treat for weeds between the rows. (When you fertilize you
can treat for weeds that are unlike a tobacco plant, i.e. broad leaf,
vining, fine blade).

A good tobacco plant needs to put all of its energy into making big, healthy
leaves. It is the leaves that are harvested. Therefore, you need to keep
the plant topped. Kept short and not permitted to flower. (When I helped
'top' the tobacco I thought I was gonna die of nicotine poisoning. Whew.
Straight nicotine right through the skin. Also the stains on your hands
from topping (breaking off the stalk about 5' high) are impossible to
remove. You just have to let it wear off.

After the tobacco has grown for the season you can tell it is ready to start
harvest by the color. It should have been deep green as it was growing.
Now that it is finished growing (usually September around here, determined
by the weather and length of days) it will start to turn yellow. This is
good. (But if it turns yellow it also may have a disease, so you gotta
watch it and make sure it is the whole field and all the leaves at once.)
Once it is yellow, you go out and cut it down. You usually use a tobacco
stick. A tobacco stick is about 36" long, about 3/4" thick, with a pointed
end on one side. You stick the tobacco stick in the ground. Then you cut a
tobacco stalk at the base and lift it up to horizontal. Then you place this
horizontal stalk over the tobacco stick. (The stick is sticking up between
leaves close to the stalk about at the middle of the plant). You put as
many stalks on the stick as will fit. You can leave the sticks in the field
for a day or two, but only if it doesn't rain. Now you gather up all of
your sticks.

Time to hang the tobacco. You need to hang the tobacco in a protected place
to cure. Curing means drying out, then reabsorbing moisture. A farmer
usually has a barn, 4 bent, or 5 bent. This means that it is so many feet
high. These barns are specifically built to be tobacco barns. There is a
system of rough grids placed between the posts and beams. The grid is
usually built from sturdy wood posts, just trees that have been cut before
they are too big. Usually about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. This grid is
created with the 36" tobacco stick in mind. Because you actually hang the
stick with the tobacco on it from the grid pieces. Usually a farmer will
find a really, really small (not short, just thin) person to hang. Because
you have to be up there at the top of the barn, which can be 50' high and
crawling around on that same grid system. Others are on the wagon, and up
into the grid to hand the sticks up in a water bucket brigade type of
system. Some farmers can afford barns or won't and they just hang their
tobacco onto a grid made of, well, like chain link fence posts. Outside.
Definitely more at the mercy of the weather.

Now you wait. You need just the right amount of air going through the barn.
You want the leaves to dry, but not too much. If they are too dry, they
crumble. And this is not good. The drying process is usually pretty long.
The leaves have to dry out, then they have to reabsorb moisture so they can
be packaged. A package is about a 300 pound or so packed tight rectangular
shaped tobacco bale. There are laws regulating how the tobacco leaves are
separated and put in the bales. If you put cheap stuff in the middle and
good stuff on the outside you are charged for a crime. This baler thing is
kinda a wood box that you lay the leaves into criss-crossed. And then a
heavy type of press is used to compact it as type as possible. (So it
doesn't dry or absorb moisture.) Then the box has natural twine (no
preservatives or face rope) spaced around it and in it so the tobacco bale
can be tied up tight. These bales then go the auction.

Government graders determine the grade of all bales. Then they are
auctioned by grade, by farm.

Last year's drought was horrible for tobacco. And the rainy spell at the
beginning of the season was another hit. The government requires that all
farmers purchase insurance to protect against crop loss. If you don't buy
private, you must buy government. Minimum of $50 per crop, per farm. This
was from when Clinton was helicoptering looking at the results of that flood
in 1997 or so. Said we need to protect these people. We must pass a law
that requires them to buy insurance. Thanks, just another bill added on.

The good tobacco is usually bought by American tobacco companies. The
cheaper, or lower grades, are typically sent out of country, to Japan or
China usually. Usually most of Kentucky's crop is purchased by American

The labor for tobacco is stage specific. When you are planting, when you
are topping, when you are cutting, when you are hanging and when you are
baling. Many tobacco farmers use alien labor to help with their crops.
Some aliens charge per stick for cutting or hanging. Others are employed by
the farmer and do other chores on the farm for an hourly rate plus room.
And not a very good hourly rate but it is more than they can earn at their

Whew. Short course in tobacco. Let me know if I have confused us all or if
this helps.