Evaluation of two fully-mechanical Burley harvesting systems
Development of a fully-mechanical harvesting system for Burley tobacco began at the University of Kentucky in the early 1980's with a major research grant from Philip Morris USA. By the mid-1990s a prototype system had been fabricated with a design capacity of approximately 1.5 ha per day for two workers. The system utilizes a self-propelled harvester that cuts and inverts mature Burley plants, cuts notches near the stalk base and hangs plants in portable steel curing frames. Filled curing frames holding 450 plants each are unloaded by the harvester, left for 1 week and then covered with waterproof material. Approximately 37 portable curing frames are required to harvest 1 ha. Thorough evaluation of the system was compromised by the having only 25 portable curing frames for testing. Until 2004, the availability of inexpensive migrant laborers, production quotas and adequate curing barns limited grower interest in the system, which would require substantial capital investment. In 2005, Philip Morris USA purchased 400 curing frames and arranged for the system to be evaluated by one of their Production Expansion Program (PEP) growers in Larue County, KY. Approximately 10.5 ha were harvested. Some functional problems were identified requiring design modifications. GCH International, Inc. will manufacture three prototype systems that will be evaluated during 2006 by Phillip Morris USA PEP growers. Approximately 100 ha will be harvested and we will report on operational performance, including: average harvest rate (ha/hr), average field loss (plants/ha), field operating efficiency (time harvesting/total field time), etc. A second fully mechanical harvesting system was designed and fabricated in 2005. This system features a tractor-drawn harvester that employs the same methods of cutting, inverting and notching plants as the original system, except that notched plants are placed in formed steel rails approximately 3 m long. Ten filled rails, holding approximately 40 plants each, are unloaded simultaneously. The unloaded filled rails are retrieved by a separate tractor-drawn transporter and placed on a field curing structure. This system was designed as a lower cost alternative to the system described above. A prototype system will be evaluated by Phillip Morris USA PEP growers during 2006. Approximately 6 ha will be harvested and we will report on system performance, including: average harvest rate (ha/hr), average field loss (plants/ha), field operating efficiency (time harvesting/total field time), etc. Philip Morris USA has provided ongoing support for this work for three decades.