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Burley tobacco is a light air-cured tobacco used primarily for cigarette production. In the United States it is produced in an eight-state belt with approximately 70% produced in Kentucky. Tennessee produces
The origin of White Burley tobacco was credited to a Mr. Webb in 1864, who grew it near Higginsport, Ohio, from seed from Bracken County, Kentucky. He noticed it yielded a different type of light leaf shaded from white to yellow, and cured differently. By 1866, he harvested 20,000 pounds of Burley tobacco and sold it in 1867 at the St. Louis Fair for $58 per hundred pounds. By 1883, the principal market for this tobacco was Cincinnati, but it was grown throughout central Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. In 1880 Kentucky produced 36 percent of the total national tobacco production, and was first in the country, with nearly twice as much tobacco produced as by Virginia, then the second-place state. Later the type became referred to as burley tobacco, which is air-cured.
In the U.S., burley tobacco plants are started from pelletized seeds placed in polystyrene trays floated on a bed of fertilized water in March or April. Transplanting begins in May and progresses through June with a small percentage set in July. Producers must contend with major diseases such as black shank and blue mold and insects like aphids, hornworms and budworms. Plants are topped by removing the developing flower head at approximately 60 days from transplanting, and treated to prevent the growth of side shoots called suckers. Topping allows energy that would have produced a bloom to promote leaf expansion. At approximately four weeks after topping, the tobacco is stalk cut, using a knife that is shaped like a tomahawk. Each plant is speared, spiked or spudded (the terminology depending on the geographic location) onto a stick topped by a metal spear, spike or spud that fits over the stick. Each stick will contain five or six stalks.