Not too high, not too quick

Highland Rim AgResearch and Education Center explains its dark-fired tobacco curing process.

UT System President Randy Boyd learned the finer points of tobacco curing during his recent visit to the Highland Rim AgResearch and Education Center.  The visit was part of his “Everywhere you look, UT” tour, a three-month statewide trek to more than 50 counties to celebrate UT’s impact across Tennessee.

Tobacco curing at the Highland Rim AgResearch and Education Center involves storing freshly cut tobacco leaves in a barn, then subjecting it to a smoldering fire contained within the barn. 

Experienced personnel at the Center light the fires, checking them throughout the day and night, to ensure the right amount of heat hits the tobacco for curing perfection.

“If you get the temperature too high too quick, then the moisture leaves the leaf too soon and you’ll have a green color, and that’s not desirable at all,” said Rob Ellis, director of the center.  “You probably won’t even be able to sell it.”

The key is ensuring there is enough heat in the barn to remove the moisture from the tobacco leaf, transforming it into a rich, warm, brown hue.

“People look at you kind of crazy when you put a fire in a barn, but there’s really not a lot of flame,” Ellis explained to Boyd.  “We put wood down then sawdust on top, so it’s more of a smoldering-type fire.

“It’s a pretty intense process for the first couple of weeks, then it gets a little easier to deal with.”

The barn that Boyd visited during the tour contained approximately 6,000 pounds of tobacco — not too hot, not too cold…but curing just right.

UT System President Randy Boyd, Senator Kerry Roberts and members of the Highland Rim UT AgResearch facility view tobacco curing during the Everywhere UT Tour on August 4, 2021.