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 during the 2013 season resulted in the energy performance evaluation of three different make of new curing barns (Long, World Tobacco, and Tytun) at the same on-farm location. Instrumentation was implemented to monitor the total energy consumption, fuel and electricity, each cure for the new barns and two existing barns for comparison. All the new barns were loaded the same day with similar quality and quantity of tobacco. Automatic ventilation control was utilized on all the barns, new and existing, and as a result the curing management for each barn was easy to duplicate. The energy performance information is summarized below. 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, and existing material handling system components. Performance based comparisons and manufacturer competition can potentially result in innovations and improvements in future barn designs.