Unusually hot, dry conditions plagued Kentucky this summer. Tobacco growers in the state need to keep a close eye on their curing barns to prevent the crop from curing too fast.
If the dry weather keeps up through harvest, growers should slow down the drying process, said Bob Pearce, University of Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist. More time to cure improves color. In drought-hit areas, growers should limit in-field wilt time. This will help take more moisture into the curing barns.
In areas where the dry weather has stunted growth, pack the crop in the barn tighter than normal. "In some cases, they may want to place sticks as close as 4 to 5 inches apart," he said. "That can reduce airflow through the crop and slow the drying process."
With larger crops, he said, normal stick spacing will work fine.
When the average daily relative humidity is at least 75 percent, growers should keep barns open. Below that, consider closing the barn doors and vents during the heat of the day even with relatively green tobacco in the barn. Once the initial moisture is lost to a crop there is no getting it back and the color doesn't change much after that.
Monitor closed barns (especially those with green tobacco) at least once a day, looking and smelling for signs of rot setting in. At the first sign of houseburn, open and flush the barn for a few days. "For newer barns with no vent doors or in some cases no sides, growers may want to consider covering the openings with plastic or house wrap to slow airflow and minimize drying," he said. "As the tobacco progresses through yellowing, growers may need to close barns for longer periods of time."
UK tobacco specialist and weather experts created a Burley Curing Advisory website with an interactive, real-time guide to help growers with curing management. It can be found at http://weather.uky.edu/burley_curing.html.
Katie Pratt, University of Kentucky agriculture writer, contributed to this story.