The Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department continues to provide technical support to tobacco growers, Extension Agents, and the tobacco industry related to engineering and mechanization problems. With the widespread adoption of mechanical harvesting, bulk curing and mechanized leaf handling systems, many growers today only touch the tobacco plant during transplanting and topping/suckering operations. These mechanization efforts combined with many agronomic improvements have significantly decreased the labor requirements for tobacco.
Many growers are interested in upgrading their aging barn infrastructure or adding additional curing capacity for their existing acreage. A very unique opportunity was initiated during the 2013 season to evaluate the energy performance of three different make of new curing barns at the same on-farm location. This evaluation was expanded in 2014 to include an additional barn make and multiple models from three of the four manufacturers (Long, World Tobacco, Taylor, and Tytun). Instrumentation was implemented to monitor the total energy consumption (fuel and electricity), static pressure, and cure duration each cure for the new barns and two existing barns for comparison. A total of seven new barns were monitored. Automatic ventilation control was utilized on all barns. Green and cured leaf weights were also recorded each cure. The total number of cures was identical for most barns, but the pounds of green leaf loaded varied due to differences in box size and the number of boxes for each barn make. The 2014 and 2013 performance information is summarized below.
This information is provided to assist growers with making decisions on curing infrastructure changes. Although energy performance alone is not necessarily the justification for selecting a given barn make, it is an important factor due to the production costs associated with curing and the uncertainty of future energy prices. Other factors include the new barn cost, make and model of the existing barn infrastructure, existing material handling system components, barn serviceability and maintenance requirements. Performance based comparisons and manufacturer competition can potentially result in innovations and improvements in future barn designs.