Harvesting and Drying

Harvesting and Drying Facts:
Harvesting Beginning mid-July and ending mid-September, workers pick the tobacco leaves from adult plants. It is also called, “priming.” A shade tobacco plant is picked three leaves at a time; each plant could yield 4 or 5 picks in a season. Assuring this often requires workers to crawl on all fours through rows of closely sown stalks that can grow 10 feet high.
Drying After harvest, leaves are sewn together on a string and tied to a wooden batten requiring long hours of standing, arms held up. The string of leaves are then hung over barn beams—at levels 20 feet off the ground; workers stand on 2 beams reaching down to grab the tobacco, passing it up to other workers and lay the battens across the beams.

Major Components:

  • Wet conditions: Priming begins early in day to avoid heat, but plants are covered with dew and workers become wet in minutes.
  • Sticky secretions: By late morning, heat makes plants produce sticky secretions, which covers the workers’ clothing and skin. Combination of sweat and raw tobacco juice stings the eyes.
  • Awkward postures: Priming occurs 3-10 times in each field throughout the season, and requires workers to maintain various awkward positions.
    • 1st priming: Must sit or severely bend to reach the leaves.
    • 2nd and 3rd primings: Must kneel for long periods of time.
    • Rest of primings: May stand up straight to reach leaves.
  • Tobacco workers work from bottom to top on the tobacco plants, so they have varied postures throughout the season. Maintaining and harvesting the plants requires fast, repetitive motions and often awkward postures. Leaves are “snapped” in either a quick, upward motion or a traditional quick, downward motion.
  • A bicycle-powered conveyor belt transports picked leaves from the middle of each row.