October 8, 2008

The state's agricultural sectors are feeling the effects of the most recent drought, and burley tobacco producers are no exception. With no signs of the drought letting up anytime soon, producers should manage their barns now to prevent quick curing said Bob Pearce, burley tobacco extension specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Quick curing is a result of a lack of moisture that causes the leaves to dry too fast before their pigments are able to transform into aromatic compounds. Quick cured tobacco is lighter in color than normal. The color difference can cause the crop to receive a lower quality grade from buyers. This could result in producers receiving lower prices for their crops regardless of whether they have a contract.

"Under normal growing conditions farmers expect to get a quality rating of 1 or 2, which means the crop is of good quality. For quick cured, the quality is more like a 3, 4 or even 5," Pearce said.

Ideal curing conditions are days with 60 to 70 percent humidity, but with the drought, humidity levels have not been anywhere near ideal.

"We've had such dry conditions, with afternoon humidity levels below 30 percent and evenings with nowhere near the saturation levels needed to form moisture to allow tobacco to cure properly," said UK Agricultural Meteorologist Tom Priddy.

Tobacco producers saw some quick curing last year as a result of the drought of 2007, but because that drought arrived earlier in the summer and tapered off by mid-October, the conditions did not affect the crop as much is this year's late season drought could.

Producers can slow the curing process through effective barn management, Pearce said. Farmers need to keep an eye on the weather and humidity levels and accordingly adjust their barns.

"On mornings when we expect to have fog or dew, they should open up the barns the previous evening so the high humidity can enter the barns," he said. "Then in the morning, they should close the barns to trap in the moisture."

For the last couple of years, researchers at UK have been experimenting on how to add moisture to the barn without harming the crop. Pearce said UK researchers and area farmers currently are studying the effects of wetting down the floor of the barn and shutting the doors to trap in moisture, but he does not have any significant findings yet.

Pearce cautioned producers with late-planted tobacco about trying to avoid quick curing by keeping their crops in the field. As temperatures cool off, it will take longer for the crop to cure, and if the average daily temperature drops below 50 degrees for a week or so, it could alter the crop's color as well, resulting in a green tint on the leaf.

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