Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Tobacco Diaries: It's Getting Hot In Here!

Weeks 13-17

The smell of fall is in the air. Temperatures are beginning to settle in the low 70's each day, the sky is clear blue, and leaves are beginning to turn to red, orange, and yellow. And if you live in Western Kentucky, the smell of tobacco barns smoking would be added to that list. That's right, most people, involved in agriculture or not, will almost always mention the sweet smell of tobacco barns as a part of fall. It's a Kentucky tradition! In my house, the tradition also smells up the laundry room for a few months, but I won't get into that!

So, after being cut in the field and loaded on wagons, the tobacco wilts for a few days and then is put into the barn on tiers. The term used for putting the tobacco in the barn is "running in". There is no running involved so I am not sure how that term evolved.
Each stick is handed up person to person until all the tiers are filled. 

This barn is not completely full, but you can see the tier levels. 

After the barn is full, sawdust and slabs are brought in to start the smoking process. The wood that is used for this process is scrap hardwood from local sawmills. We are fortunate to have several local sawmills that can easily provide the hardwood to ensure this type of tobacco is cured with perfect color and flavor. Starting the fires is a tricky process. Not only are you starting a fire in a wood structure, but the fires must be started slow. As the tobacco begins to change colors from green to yellow and eventually deep brown, the fires increase in intensity. They also have to be checked regularly. This means walking into the smoke filled barn to make sure fires are not to close to the walls and that no leaves have fallen into the fire.

This would be the view from inside a smoking barn! 

This is how the sawdust and slabs look in the barn.

In this picture you can see the tobacco is beginning to turn deep brown. Once the barn is fired for the last time, the tobacco will have a shiny finish to it. 

It's hard to tell from this picture, but this barn is smoking. Big boss and little boss are headed to check it! Only big boss goes in the barn, though!

Until next time, God Bless. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Tobacco Diaries: Things are getting interesting

Week 12: Cutting

The first setting of tobacco is ready to be cut and put in the barn for firing. It's hard to believe that in just a few short months it went from this...

to this...

Each plant is cut individually by hand using one of the cutting knives shown below.

After being cut, and waiting about an hour or two, the plants are spiked onto a stick. Basically the plants are speared about five or six to a stick so that they can be hung in the barn to be cured. To be transferred from the field to the barn, the sticks are hung on tobacco wagons and pulled either with trucks or tractors.

This wagon is loaded, covered, and ready to head to the barn. The black sheet protects the plants from being burned and also aids in wilting the leaves. The tobacco needs to wilt for a couple of days before it is ready to be hung in the barn and fired. Depending on the size and weight of the tobacco, approximately four acres can be put in a barn.

This tobacco is ready to be put in the barn. 

We are now entering, in my opinion, the most labor intensive/stressful part of growing dark fired tobacco. Not only is getting the tobacco from field to barn extremely hard work, after the barn is fired you have the added stress of checking the fires to make sure they don't get too hot and potentially burn the barn down. It's tricky business building a fire in a wood structure! More on that process in the next post.

Until then, God Bless!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Tobacco Diaries: Flowers?

The Tobacco Diaries Week 9: Flowers?

It does seem strange to see a flower growing out of the top of a tobacco plant, but before reaching full maturity, they do produce a flower. The flower, however, does need to be removed so that the plant's full energy is going into growing the leaves. We want the plant to grow out, not up. The process of removing the flower is called "topping and oiling". Each flower is broken out of the top of the plant, by hand, and then an oil is dripped where the flower was broken so that it will not grow back again. This is all done by hand. A machine is not capable of performing this task. Every tobacco plant will need to be "topped and oiled" two to three times before cutting to ensure the flower does not grow back and that the leaves on the tobacco plant will reach their full potential. One other problem with the flower is, if we did get a strong storm with heavy winds, the flower acts like a sail and can cause severe damage to the tobacco plant when it bends and breaks in the wind. Below is the most recent picture of the tobacco after being topped and oiled.

Week 9
The picture doesn't do it justice, but the leaves are beginning to turn a very dark green and are getting thick and heavy. The leaves will continue to get bigger and heavier, but the plant is as tall as it will get.

We went from having entirely too much rain to being completely dry, so the irrigation rigs are running full force right now. I jokingly call them my competition,
because I am pretty sure the rigs see more of my husband than I do these days! Oh well, such is the life of a farmer.

God Bless!

Monday, July 28, 2014


I have a quote that sits, framed on my desk at home. It says this:
A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. In the end, leaders are much like eagles... they don't flock, you find them one at a time.
I am certain that you could replace the word leader with farmer and the message would hold. I can say this with conviction because not only do I live with a farmer, I also just spent the better part of a week with a group of farmers in Washington D.C. It was the final step of the NCGA DuPont New Leader Program. It was an experience that I will not soon forget. After having met only one time six months ago, our group met in D.C. and greeted one another like long lost friends. We immediately began to bond. Talking and laughing about everything that had happened in the last six months. Family, farming, you name it someone was talking and someone was listening.

We set off on a fast paced mission that took us to farmland in Virginia. There we learned about the issues that they face year to year and also saw beautiful fields of sunflowers that were the perfect back drop for some great pictures. We then travelled to a vineyard, where we learned more about the value of family and determination. The next day, we toured two impressive DuPont structures. One, a museum, that offered a glimpse into the past and the rich history that surrounds the company. I was fascinated by the family stories, and again, the determination that was evident in every detail. The second, a research facility, that housed up and coming innovations for farmers. You could feel the energy from each scientist we met with. Truly excited about the work that was going on. At the end of the day, we met with DuPont leaders and discussed issues relevant to farmers. We were able to mingle with the Executive Vice President of DuPont, the President of DuPont crop protection, the Director of Global Communications, the External Relations Manager, and an expert in the field of Biologicals Nutrition and Health. For these men and women to take the time to talk to our group, showed their dedication to Agriculture and farmers.

The rest of the week was spent in the heart of Washington D.C. at Corn Congress, and at the Capital visiting with our Congressmen. Having the opportunity to sit through several sessions at Corn Congress was an eye opening experience. We were able to see what happens behind the scenes to benefit both farmers and consumers. Our particular visits to Kentucky Congressmen went very well, and I felt encouraged by most of them positively endorsing Agriculture.

The entire week was busy, but productive. A very positive experience. I missed my boys terribly and was overjoyed to see them when we got home, but it is important for them to see us being good leaders and trying to make a difference. They need to learn from us that sometimes you have to leave your home and comfort zone in order to make a change.

In closing, this did not signal the end, but the beginning of a great adventure. Adventures in leadership and the future of Agriculture. I am excited about what is to come. And I am truly grateful to everyone who had a hand in making this first NCGA DuPont New Leader Program a success. I look forward to seeing all of you in the future.

God Bless!
The Cathedral of Saint Matthew. I was blessed to have been able to attend mass here. Saint John Paul II said mass here in 1979 when he visited Washington D.C. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Tobacco Diaries Week 7

Week 7: 

This is possibly week 8, to be honest I have lost track of time a little bit. To say that time flies when you have children is an understatement, it takes on it's own speed that is immeasurable to humans! When I was little, my dad warned me of this extraordinary speed but you can't fully appreciate it until you are actually living it. 

Now back to the tobacco. The very last of the tobacco to be set is being plowed as I type. Below is a picture of the plow that is used. 
It is important for weed control as well as to incorporate dry fertilizer. This is long and tedious work. Many hours are spent in the tractor seat!

I tend to not want to focus on anything negative, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that some of our tobacco has suffered severe damage from too much rain. This tobacco has scalded and basically has suffocated from the excess moisture. 
This speaks of the volatility of a tobacco plant. It does need water to grow and thrive, but too much can devastate a crop. If the growing conditions are hot and dry, adding a little bit of irrigation is the best way for tobacco to get water. 
This is not a complete loss, however, and we are thankful for what we still have.
Week 7

As the pace of life continues to speed up, I try to remember to take time each day for prayer and reflection. So as not to forget the true purpose of this life! 

God Bless!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Tobacco Diaries Week 6: Never A Dull Moment!

Week 6:  

The last of the tobacco has been set. It was a tricky couple of days juggling wheat harvest and getting the ground ready for tobacco, but as always everything got done.  

It is always satisfying to see a wagon full of empty trays! We will now keep an ever watchful eye to the weather radars, hoping the storm clouds approaching do not carry hail with them. Hail can be devastating to a tobacco crop especially when the leaves are big, and in the most fragile state. As they are becoming in the picture below. 
Week 6

The biggest of the tobacco also needed to be fertilized this week. This was done very slowly in a small sprayer with hoses distributing the Nitrogen (fertilizer) directly to the ground. A sprayer was used because the leaves on the tobacco are big enough that a tractor pulling an applicator through them would damage the leaves. 

We will celebrate the 4th of July with what the forecasters are calling a cooler than normal beginning of July, and will be thankful for what we have, what we have been given, and what the future will bring. 

God Bless! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Tobacco Diaries

Week 5: Busy!

The rain has left us, and in its wake, 90+ degree heat. No complaints though, farming is back in session full force. Wheat harvest has begun, which will immediately be followed by planting wheat beans. They are named wheat beans simply because they are planted on the ground that has just been harvested for wheat. This is a great way to utilize the land. Wheat is a cover crop that helps with soil erosion. Just another way that farmers are giving back to the land! 

The tobacco continues to need constant attention and below is a picture of the applicator that was used to fertilize it. Contrary to popular belief, not all tractor's have radios and air conditioners. As you can see this one utilizes nature's air conditioning, which at the moment is not much. Tobacco really likes hot, humid air and, in fact, thrives in this type of environment. 

Week 5

Life is as busy as ever, with my husband gone from dawn 'til dark I continue my household duties with three young children and also become the lunch delivery service and chauffeur from field to field. If nothing else does, the constant running is enough to wear anyone out. Luckily, my brother is able to help drive semis and the grain cart and my mother-in-law always swoops in at just the right time to take the boys to play at her house. My sanity is saved! Thank goodness for family. So, as I bumpity, bump through fields and drive down old dirt roads like the Dukes of Hazzard, because farmers are always in a hurry and you just can't get there fast enough, sometimes I catch myself thinking, "The city sure is nice." But really, I would eventually miss the wide open spaces and the breathtaking views that can only be attributed to God the creator. 

God Bless!