Make more, save more

Growing any crop well is a complicated affair, but the bottom-line concepts are simple. Farmers have to produce good quality and high yield and do it as inexpensively as possible. To no one is this more important than flue-cured tobacco growers, who are always under pressure to make more and/or save more in their production.

“A tobacco grower has to figure out how to cut costs if he is going to increase his bottom line,” says Bob Bett, a northeastern South Carolina agent who works with farmers in Marion and Horry counties. “Over the years we’ve evaluated the production of tobacco in the field, including fertilizers and other inputs; but when the price of curing gas skyrocketed three or four years ago, it hit us right between the eyes that if the grower could reduce tobacco curing costs it would profit him tremendously.

Key Points

• Flue-cured tobacco farmers can realize gains by saving curing costs.

• Study shows that additional barn insulation saves fuel.

• Automatic damper controls make fuel use more efficient.


“We started looking at old barns and saw some of them weren’t insulated properly. We asked ourselves if we could get insulation in the walls and up into the ceilings — and what it would take to do that.”

A multiyear study on curing efficiency developed out of this line of questioning and was supplemented with additional research, particularly into automatic damper controls. The researchers working with Bett include Clemson’s Dewitt Gooden, tobacco agronomist, Pee Dee REC; Trish Dehond, Extension agent,
Dillon, Darlington and Marlboro counties; Greg Harvey, agent, Sumter County, retired; Bruce Johnson, former Extension agent, Horry County; and Carlin Munnerlin, agent, Georgetown County.

This year the study goes on at several locations. Bett updated attendees on the research results during the Clemson Tobacco Tour in July, when the caravan turned in at the Baxley Farm in Marion County, a farm operated by father Steve and sons Neal and Gene Robert Baxley.

Neal takes care of many of the tobacco duties on the farm. He’s played a large role in this research project work by keeping a tight check on their barns and doing a great deal of recordkeeping. This year’s research will be added to the multiyear statistics documenting the results.

Tests like this one at the Baxley Farm are looking at the various barn manufacturers and at various heat exchangers on the market. The farmers have put gas meters and automatic damper controls on each barn in their tests, and they are measuring the variables to see what units and which combinations work most cost-efficiently.

The research, “Curing Efficiency Studies,” has yielded up some impressive numbers showing improvements; however, results may not always be cut and dry.

The 2008 research statistics handed out by Bett and the Baxleys on the tour compared the pounds of cured leaf, the total number of gallons of gas used to cure the tobacco, and how much tobacco was cured “per gallon.”

A combination of automatic damper controls plus insulation showed a significant 46% improvement over the check system, with no automatic damper control and no added insulation. The automatic damper control alone improved performance by 36%. The insulation alone increased performance by an impressive 30%.

At several locations the curing efficiency improvement has been quite variable, however. At one of the four locations, extra barn insulation added only a 2% improvement in curing efficiency. At another site, efficiency with additional barn insulation actually went down 7%.

Tests performed using automatic damper controls at one location showed an efficiency improvement of just 3%. In another location there was no improvement in efficiency using damper controls at all (see the information in the charts).

So, it appears more data needs to be collected and more study done on the details to explain the wide variations. However, keep in mind the significant improvements in efficiency made in many of the tests.

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savings ADD UP: Neal Baxley (left), father Steve Baxley and Gene Robert Baxley take an active interest in upgrading tobacco equipment to keep it as efficient as possible.

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SPREAD THE KNOWLEDGE: During the Clemson University Tobacco Tour in July, Neal Baxley (right) took some time out of his farming duties to explain experiments on curing-fuel savings at the Baxley family operation. Local Extension agent Bob Bett, in the light blue-striped shirt at the left, hands out statistics on the Clemson curing efficiency research.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of CAROLINA-VIRGINIA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.