Tobacco is a important crop for farmers throughout Kentucky. Although many farmers do not produce many acres, the manual labor required is extensive. Most of the work is done by hand unlike grain crops where machines do much of the work.
We start in the early spring seeding trays which float in waterbeds in which the plants will grow to about 6" tall. Then the plants are taken to the fields where they will be set in the ground using a Tobacco setter. Arms rotate as the wheels turn and you put the small plants into the fingers which put them into the ground. (See picture below)
Riding the Tobacco Setter May 2003
Shaun,Eddie,Harvey and Shannon
As the plants grow thru the summer weed control and insects are a concern. Hopefully the chemicals applied will control weeds but weather conditions can cause the chemicals not to work correctly. When that happens you have to hoe out the patch which is no fun.
As the plants grow they produce a bloom in the top in late July which has to be broken out by hand. If you wait to long about doing this they really get tough to twist out. After breaking out the top the plants are sprayed with chemicals to keep suckers from growing on the plant. At this time the top leaves begin to spread out and that's when you get good weight from the plant, it also turns golden yellow from the green it had before.
After about three weeks the Tobacco is ready to harvest. Before it is cut we go thru the patch and drop sticks to put the tobacco on. You can put five or six plants on a stick. An acre usually has about 7000 plants. We grow about 10 acres total. Cutting tobacco is real hard work but it is a good workout. Each plant has to speared onto the stick one by one. First you drive the stick into the ground with the blunt end of the hatchet you use to cut it. Then you put a sharpened spear onto the top of the stick. A lot of people have been hurt with the spears. The the tobacco is cut off with the hatchet and you spear the stalk onto the stick. An average cutter can cut about 80-100 sticks per hour. ( See picture below)
The Sticks are left in the patch a couple of days to wilt and lose some water before being loaded onto wagons and hung in the barns. We hang each stick on tierpoles in the barns so it will dry and cure out. It turns a pretty brown after about 2 months in the barn. Next the sticks are taken down and the leaves are stripped from the stalk. We put the leaves into 3 grades and it is baled using boxes and pneumatic cylinders to press it tight and banded with strings. It is now ready to be sold. We have quotas telling us how much we can raise determined by the land owned or much extra we want to lease from other farms. It is taken to local warehouses where we now contract the tobacco to tobacco companies for a set price. This is a change from the past where it was auctioned to the companies.
This is the spray rig we use on our crops