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Back to Basics: Curing and Harvesting Fundamentals

December 11, 2020 |

by John Capetanos

To care for tobacco crops, a couple of factors are necessary. One is a targeted eye at keeping the plant healthy while it grows, and another is identifying when you want to harvest and how long you want to cure.

Regardless of the first half of the process, your approach to harvesting and curing greatly impacts the final result.

Harvesting Schedules

Harvesting timetables vary by region. A good pace for flue-cured harvesting, according to the University of Georgia’s guide for Harvesting and Curing Flue-Cured Tobacco, is to harvest tobacco every five to seven weeks during the harvest season.

Premature leaves cannot be cured, so keep an eye on the color of your plants. How do you analyze color to confirm the leaves’ ripeness?

Check for signs of maturity: Leaves that begin to slightly yellow and break off the stalk easily are ready for harvest. In order to maintain quality and consistency throughout the batch, aim to harvest a round of mature leaves around the same time.

Air Curing vs. Flue Curing

Throughout the curing process, tobacco growers prepare their harvested tobacco to be processed into various consumer tobacco products. Curing ensures that the quantities of substances like ammonia and nicotine are not too high for human consumption, and it helps the plant exhibit desired flavors and quality.

Both air-cured growers and flue-cured growers take many factors into consideration. And depending on your equipment and contractual requirements, air-curing strategies and flue-curing strategies lead to different results.

Commonly applied to burley tobacco, air curing is the most basic method available. To air cure their tobacco, growers simply harvest the leaves and hang them up to dry. The process of air curing takes between four weeks to eight weeks depending on atmospheric conditions. Maintaining good ventilation is essential to allow for necessary airflow. This produces a kind of tobacco that tends to be low in sugar, which makes it a lighter smoke variety commonly used in cigars.

Flue curing, while more intensive in the requirements and adjustments needed to provide a high-quality tobacco, allows growers much more control over the curing process. Within their bulk barns, growers are able to control important factors like airflow, temperature and humidity. Flue curing works by maintaining the life of the leaf so that the yellowing process can complete as the plant is exposed to high heat from external fire boxes. Flue-cured tobacco, as a result of this process, is high in sugar and often high in nicotine. Flue curing also takes much less time; in about a week, the flue-cured leaf is ready for processing.

Proper Storage

After tobacco leaves are cured, proper storage is essential. Guard against letting the leaves become too dry or too wet.

Storing the leaves in a place that is too humid can lead to molding. The moisture should be maintained at around 70 percent relative humidity to keep the leaf dry but pliable—rather than crispy—while still avoiding the molding process, as mold can generate between two to three days.

In order to abate these issues, experts recommend drying the tobacco at a maximum temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit and lowering that temperature if the leaf becomes too dry.

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