AUG 2 1955
Agr. Econ. Series No. 55 -6
Use of Tobacco Harvesters in Columbia and
Suwannee Counties, Florida, 1954
Theo. H. Ellis, R. E. L. Greene and Marvin A. Brooker
Fig. 1.- SIDE VIEW OF TOBACCO HARVESTER.
Note seats for four croppers.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS
FLORIDA AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION
cable of Cortests
INTRODUCTION . . . . ... ......................... 5
Purpose ....... ................... .. ........... ........ .... 5
Procedure .................................................. 5
Definition of Terms .............................................. 6
METHODS OF HARVESTING TOBACCO ............ . .................... 7
Usual Method .................................................. 7
Machine Method ............................ ..................... 10
USE AND COST OF OPERATING TOBACCO HARVESTING MACHINES 1954 ......... .12
Acres Harvested .......... ... .................................. 12
Hours Harvester Operated DuringSeason .................... ............. 12
Cost of Operating the Harvester ..... .................. ..............13
COMPARISON OF THE COST OF HARVESTING TOBACCO WITH A TOBACCO
HARVESTER AND THE USUAL METHOD ................. ..... ............14
Labor Required to Harvest an Acre of Tobacco ........ ...... ......... .14
Cost per Acre of Harvesting Tobacco ........ ........... ................. 15
Effects of Acres Harvested and Estimated Life of Harvester on
Cost of Operating a Harvester ....... ... .............. .............. 17
Time Required for a Harvester to Return Purchase Cost ....... ............. .. 19
Maximum Acreage One Machine Can Handle ..... ...........................19
DISCUSSION OF RESULTS o................. ....... .... ............... 20
PROBLEMS AND SUGGESTIONS o.............,, ....... ................. .20
Troublesome Features ..................... .............................. 20
Changes Made by the Owner ......................... .. ....... ..... .... 21
Owners' Suggested Changes .............. ......... ......... ....... .22
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Harvester ........ .... . . ........ 23
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS .............. .............................. 23
Use of Tobacco Harvesters in Columbia and
Suwannee Counties, Florida, 19541/
The production of flue-cured tobacco is characterized by the use of a large amount of hand
labor. Much of this labor is required in the harvesting operation. Attempts are being made to im-
prove the efficiency of agricultural laborers and where possible reduce the arduous nature of their
work. To increase labor efficiency in the production of tobacco, experiments have been made with
several types of harvesting machines within the last few years. In 1954 one type of tobacco har-
vester was sold in Florida. Data concerning this machine and its operation have been collected
and are presented in this report.
The purpose of this study was to determine the amount of use, cost and problems involved in
operating tobacco harvesters; to determine the advantages and disadvantages of harvesting to-
bacco with a machine as compared to the usual method; and to compare the cost of harvesting
tobacco with a harvester with the cost by the usual method.
Lists of names of farmers in Florida who had purchased harvesters were obtained from the
two dealers in the state who handled the machines. These lists indicated that almost two-fifths
of the harvesters sold for use during the 1954 harvesting season were located in Suwannee County,
16 percent in Hamilton, and about 14 percent each in Lafayette and Alachua Counties (Table 1).
This study was limited to farmers in Columbia and Suwannee Counties because the data on
mechanical harvesters were collected partly to supplement data already collected from farmers in
these counties in 1953 on a study, "Effects of Enterprise Adjustments and Improved Management
Practices on Farm Incomes in North Florida" 2/. Twenty-four of the 37 harvester owners were
interviewed. Information was obtained on purchase cost, estimated life and cost of operating the
harvester. Troublesome features, changes made by the owner, changes suggested by the owner,
as well as advantages and disadvantages of the machine were listed. Data were also obtained on
the normal yield of tobacco, amount and wage rates of labor used in harvesting tobacco with a
harvester, estimated amount of labor required to harvest tobacco with the usual method and other
The data were analyzed to show the estimated annual cost of operating a tobacco harvester
and the estimated cost of harvesting tobacco with a harvester and the usual method. The calcu-
lation of cost was made on the most usual or normal basis of operation for the two methods of
harvesting. A comparison was made of the cost of harvesting tobacco by the two methods. Based
on these data the time required for a harvester to return its purchase cost in the form of savings
was calculated based on various acreages of tobacco. Finally, some problems and suggestions
relating to the machine are discussed and a summary and conclusions presented.
j/ The authors wish to express their appreciation to the tobacco harvester manufacturer and dealers for the
information they provided. Without the cooperation of the harvester owners in supplying the necessary
data this study would have been impossible. Appreciation is also expressed to Mr. Fred Clark, tobacco
specialist with the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, who reviewed the manuscript.
2/ Unpublished data- State Project 647, Florida Agricultural Experiment Station.
TABLE 1.-LOCATION OF TOBACCO HARVESTERS IN FLORIDA 19541/
County Number Percent
Suwannee 29 37.6
Hamilton 12 15.6
Lafayette 11 14.3
Alachua 11 14.3
Columbia 8 10.4
Dixie 2 2.6
Taylor 2 2.6
Union 2 2.6
Total 77 100.0
1/ From list of names of farmers supplied by tobacco harvester dealers.
Definition of Terms
Certain terms which are used throughout this report are explained as follows:
Harvester: A machine used in the tobacco harvesting process that was offered for sale to the
growers in Florida for the first time in 1954. (Machine is also used interchangeably with the
Machine method: The harvesting process as carried on while using the harvesting machine.
Usual method: The harvesting process as carried on without the use of a harvester.
Crop, to: The act of picking the ripe leaves of tobacco from the stalks in the harvesting process.
Cropper: A worker who picks the ripe leaves of tobacco from the stalks in the harvesting process.
Cropper, riding: A worker who rides on the tobacco harvester and picks the ripe leaves of tobacco
from the stalks in the machine method of harvesting.
Cropper, walking: A worker in the machine method of harvesting who follows the harvester and
picks up the leaves of tobacco dropped by the riding croppers and crops the ripe leaves missed
by the riding croppers.
Cropping: The accumulation of tobacco picked from the stalks in going over the tobacco field one
time in the harvesting process.
Hand: A bundle of approximately two to four leaves of tobacco that's looped on the stick by means
of a cotton twine in the stringing process.
Conveyor chain: A part of the harvester that carries the hands of tobacco from the croppers to the
stringers in the machine method of harvesting.
Leaf holder: A part of the harvester in the form of a clip attached to the conveyor chain for holding
the hands of tobacco on the chain.
Harvester driver: A worker who operates the tobacco harvester and performs the additional job of
removing the sticks of strung tobacco from the stringing horses and placing them in the storage
racks on the harvester.
Sled: A homemade conveyance mounted on runners used to haul the cropped tobacco from the field
to the stringing table in the usual method of harvesting. It is pulled by either a horse, mule or
Sled unloader: A worker who unloads the tobacco fromthe sled and places it on the stringing table.
Stringing table: A benchlike affair on which the sled unloader places the tobacco leaves in order
that they might be convenient to the wanders.
Hander: A worker who assembles the tobacco into bundles of approximately two to four leaves and
passes them to the stringer for stringing.
Stringer: A worker who loops or ties the leaves of tobacco with a cotton twine on alternate sides
of a stick resting on a stringing horse.
Stringing horse: A rack on which the tobacco stick rests while the tobacco is being strung.
Stick boy: A worker who removes the strung sticks of tobacco from the stringing horse and stacks
or places them in racks for hanging in the barn at a later time.
METHODS OF HARVESTING TOBACCO
An inherent characteristic of the tobacco plant prevents the harvesting operation from being
completely mechanical. The leaves ripen progressively from the bottom to the top of the stalk,
and to get the best quality tobacco they must be ripe when harvested. Experienced human observa-
tion is the only way to assure that only the ripe leaves are cropped. Consequently complete
mechanical harvesting is highly impractical. The machine, instead of doing the job mechanically,
merely provides a means by which some of the hand operations are eliminated, thus reducing the
amount of labor required in comparison with the usual method of harvesting.
The usual method of harvesting requires that the croppers walk along the rows of tobacco
cropping the ripe leaves from each stalk on either one or two rows (Fig. 2). As the leaves accu-
mulate in the hands of a cropper they are tucked under an arm until the arm is full. The leaves are
then placed in a sled that is dragged between the rows. When the sled is full it is carried to a
stringing table on which the tobacco is placed, convenient to the wanders, by a person called a
sled unloader (Fig. 3). The handers assemble the leaves into bundles of two to four leaves called
a hand and pass them to the stringers. Each stringer requires two to three handers, and two to
three stringers are needed to string a barn of tobacco. The job of the stringer is to take the hands
of tobacco and with a 3 ply cotton twine, loop or tie the leaves on alternate sides of a stick
resting on a stringing horse. When a stick is full, a stick boy removes it from the stringing horse
(Fig. 4). The sticks are piled or placed in racks to be hung in the barn at a later time (Fig. 5).
In some cases, the tobacco is hung in the barn by the stringing crew. In others, it is hung
by the field crew or croppers. Regardless of who does it, the people who perform the operation
are quite variable as to number and principal job. When the tobacco is cured the sticks of tobacco
are removed from the barn and packed in a packhouse. This task is usually performed at a time
Fig. 2.- CROPPING TOBACCO IN THE USUAL METHOD OF HARVESTING.
Note how the leaves are tucked under an arm and packed into the sled. This causes some bruising
and decrease in quality.
Fig. 3.- UNLOADING SLED AND STRINGING TOBACCO IN THE USUAL METHOD OF HARVESTING.
Two handers for the stringer on the left and three for the one on the right are preparing and
passing hands to the stringers.
Fig. 4.- STICK BOY REMOVING A STICK OF TOBACCO FROM THE STRINGING HORSE.
Handers are ready with additional hands to be passed to the stringers.
Fig. 5.- STICK BOY STACKING A STICK OF TOBACCO ON THE BARN FLOOR TO BE HUNG AT A
other than on harvesting days. The tobacco is taken from the packhouse and removed from the
sticks when it is to be graded for market.
In calculating the labor cost for harvesting tobacco by the usual method the series of opera-
tions enumerated above, until the tobacco was placed in the barn, were used.
Description of Harvester: The harvester is a self-propelled double deck three-wheeled machine
with a metal tubing frame (Fig. 1). The source of power is a 21 horsepower, two cylinder, air
cooled, gasoline motor, located above the large front wheel that it drives with a chain drive.
The machine can travel from one-eighth to 20 miles per hour. It has a variable speed clutch which
makes it possible to vary the ground speed of the harvester without changing the speed of the
conveyor chain that carries the hands of tobacco from the cropper to the stringers. The two rear
wheels are provided with brakes for safety.
The harvester is wide enough to allow four rows of tobacco to be cropped at one time. The
width of the frame can be adjusted to accommodate rows from three feet nine inches to four feet
six inches apart. The machine is built high enough to straddle the rows of full grown tobacco and
long enough to accommodate the workers and provide space for storing the sticks as they are
strung. Sheet metal serves as the floor for the upper deck. The lower deck has individual adjust-
able seats for four croppers.
As the machine comes from the factory the upper deck provides space for two stringers and
a driver. Some farmers have found it desirable to provide space for two additional stringers. The
canvas top and stick storage racks, listed as optional equipment by the manufacturer, are usually
sold with the harvester as a single unit. A seven row duster and a two row transplanter are other
items of optional equipment available.
Machine Harvesting: In the machine method of harvesting, four croppers crop the ripe leaves
from the stalks of tobacco as the harvester moves along the rows. Each cropper crops one row
and places the hands of approximately two to four leaves of tobacco in leaf holders which are
fixed on conveyor chains. The conveyor chains carry the hands to the upper deck of the harvester.
Stringers remove the hands from the leaf holders and loop the leaves by means of a cotton twine
onto sticks resting on stringing horses (Fig. 6). After a stick is filled it is removed from its
stringing horse by the machine driver and placed in the storage racks at the rear of the upper
deck. Some operators use a fifth cropper to walk along behind the machine to pick up leaves that
are dropped and to harvest leaves missed by the riding croppers.
If the tobacco barn is near the field, the harvester can be driven to the barn and the sticks
hung directly from it. When there is any great distance between the barn and the field, it is more
practical to load the sticks on a truck or trailer to haul them to the barn to be hung (Fig. 7).
This is done as often as the truck or trailer is loaded, which in most cases is at noon and the
last thing in the afternoon. Hanging the sticks in the barn is usually done by part or all of the
harvesting crew rather than workers hired for this specific purpose. After the tobacco is cured,
the sticks are removed from the barn and stacked in a packhouse the same as in the usual method
The amount of labor used in harvesting tobacco with a harvester is less than the amount
used in the usual method. The use of the machine makes it possible to eliminate the operations
of placing the tobacco in the sled, unloading the sled, and the gathering of the leaves into bunch-
es by the handers. The series of operations enumerated above, up to putting the tobacco in the
barn, were used in determining the labor costs of harvesting tobacco with a tobacco harvesting
Fig. 6.- TOBACCO HARVESTER IN OPERATION.
Note the two stringers and harvester driver. The stringer on the left has a partially strung stick on
the stringing horse beside the conveyor chain. The croppers are hidden by the stalks of tobacco.
Fig. 7.- STICKS OF TOBACCO BEING REMOVED FROM THE STORAGE RACKS ON THE HARVESTER
AND LOADED ON A TRUCK FOR HAULING TO THE CURING BARN.
A conveyor chain with hands of tobacco in the leaf holders can be seen at the right of the harvester.
USE AND COST OF OPERATING TOBACCO HARVESTING MACHINES 1954
Half of the 24 growers surveyed used their machines to harvest tobacco on a custom basis.
In some cases the entire crop was harvested and in others only one or more croppings were made.
The amount of tobacco custom harvested was reduced to equivalent acres on the basis of six
croppings to completely harvest an acre by a machine.
The 24 growers surveyed harvested an average of 17.3 acres per machine (Table 2). Of the
total amount, 12.5 acres were harvested on the machine owners' farms and 4.8 equivalent acres
were custom harvested. The minimum acreage harvested by one machine was 5.4 acres which
was the "acreage allotted" 1/ to the machine owner. The maximum acreage for a machine was
28.0 acres. Of this amount, 11.1 acres belonged to the machine owner and 16.9 acres were custom
harvested. The 12 machines used for custom work custom harvested an average of 9.6 acres per
machine with the amount varying from 1.2 acres to 16.9 acres. Tobacco was custom harvested for
35 different growers.
TABLE 2.- VARIATION IN ACRES OF TOBACCO HARVESTED WITH A HARVESTER,
PROPORTION OF MACHINES USED FOR CUSTOM WORK, AND AVERAGE
ACRES HARVESTED PER MACHINE, COLUMBIA AND SUWANNEE COUN-
TIES, FLORIDA, 1954.
Proportion of Amount Harvested per Machine for:
Acres Number of Machines used
Harvested Machines for custom work Owner Custom / Total
Number Percent Acre Acre Acre
5.0- 9.9 2 0 6.4 0 6.4
10.0-14.9 5 20 10.5 1.5 12.0
15.0-19.9 9 55 14.1 3.3 17.4
20.0-24.9 7 71 14.0 8.6 22.6
25.0-29.9 1 100 11.1 16.9 28.0
Total or Average 24 50 12.5 4.8 17.3
1/ Equivalent acres based on six croppings since most of the custom acreage was not completely harvested
by the machine method.
Hours Harvester Operated During Season
On the average it required 1.6 hours per cropping to harvest an acre of tobacco with a harvest-
er. If seven croppings were made per acre it would require 11.2 hours to harvest an acre of tobac-
co. On the basis of harvesting 17.3 acres per machine, it would require that the average harvester
be operated 194 hours per season if the tobacco were cropped an average of seven times. The
hours the individual harvesters were operated varied due to the number of acres harvested, the
number of croppings per acre and the time required to crop an acre. One farmer who cropped his
tobacco only 5 times estimated he used his machine 86 hours in harvesting 7.5 acres. Another
farmer, at the opposite extreme, who cropped his tobacco 8 times estimated he used his machine
402 hours in harvesting 20.1 acres.
1/ Acreage allotted was the amount the farmer was allowed to grow under the crop control program.
COST OF OPERATING THE HARVESTER
The cost of operating a harvester is composed of fixed or overhead costs and variable or
direct costs. Fixed costs are those items that do not vary appreciably with the amount of use of
the machine. Depreciation, insurance, taxes, and interest on investment constitute the fixed cost
in this study. Depreciation is the charge made for wear and tear and obsolescence and was based
on the farmers' estimated (actual service) life of the equipment. No salvage value was assumed
at the end of the use period. The annual depreciation charge was obtained by dividing the pur-
chase price by the estimated life. A charge of 1 percent for insurance, 3 percent for interest and
1 percent for taxes was made on the purchase cost of the equipment to cover these expenses.
Charging interest at 3 percent on purchase cost is equal to a charge of approximately 5 percent
on the undepreciated balance. Interest is charged to cover the cost of the capital invested in the
Variable costs are the cost items that vary more or less directly with the amount the machine
is operated. They include repairs, gas and oil and other miscellaneous items. They were based
on the estimates of growers as to the amounts used. In the case of repairs the amount shown is
an estimated cost. Since the machines were new in 1954 the amount of repairs was low. Also,
many of the repairs that were necessary were made by the dealer under a 90 day guarantee. There-
fore, the operators were asked to estimate what they thought would be a normal cost of repairs
for the machines.
Purchase Price, Estimated Life, and Overhead Costs: The cash price of the harvester includ-
ing the canvas top and storage racks was $1,945 (Table 3). Carrying charges on time purchases
increased the average purchase cost to the growers to $2,057. The life of the harvester including
obsolescence was estimated to be 8 years. Overhead cost, based on 17.3 acres harvested per
machine, amounted to $20.00 per acre or $2.00 per 100 sticks harvested.
Total Cost of Operating Harvester: To operate the harvester 10 hours required about 7 gallons
of gas, 0.8 quarts of motor oil, half a pound of grease and 0.7 hours of service labor. At the
TABLE 3.- PURCHASE PRICE, ESTIMATED LIFE, AND FIXED COST OF OPERATING A
TOBACCO HARVESTER, COLUMBIA AND SUWANNEE COUNTIES, FLORIDA,
Annual Cost per Cost per hour Cost per 100
Item Cost Acre I/ of Operation2/ Sticks 3/
Purchase price and
Purchase price 4/ (dollars) 1,945
Estimated life (years) 8
Amount of fixed costs:
Depreciation $243.12 $14.05 $1.25 $1.40
Interest, taxes and
Insurance 5/ 102.85 5.95 .53 .60
Total $345.97 $20.00 $1.78 $2.00
1/ Based on 17.3 acres harvested per machine including custom work
2/ Based on 194 hours of operation per year
3/ Based on 1000 sticks per acre
4/ Cost of the machine, canvas top, and storage racks. Amount shown was cash purchase price.
5/ Insurance 1 percent, taxes 1 percent, and interest 3 percent of purchase price (interest at3 percent equals
to approximately 5 percent of the undepreciated balance).
prices reported by the farmers interviewed, the cost of gasoline per hour of operation was 18
cents and the cost of motor oil, grease and service labor 7 cents (Table 4). Based on a repair
cost of $50 for the season, the cost of the repairs was 26 cents per hour. Total operating cost
amounted to 51 cents per hour. When this is added to the $1.78 overhead cost, the total cost per
hour of operating the harvester, exclusive of labor, was $2.29. When converted to a per acre and
a per 100 sticks basis, total operating cost of the harvester was $25.68 and $2.57 respectively.
It is significant that 78 percent of the cost of operating the harvester was overhead cost. This
emphasizes the need for using the machine as much as possible during the harvest season in
order to spread these costs over a greater amount of use.
TABLE 4.- TOTAL COST OF OPERATING A TOBACCO HARVESTER, COLUMBIA AND
SUWANNEE COUNTIES, FLORIDA, 1954.
Per Hour of Ae
Price Operation Per Acre 1/ Per 100
Item Unit Price Operation
(cents) Sticks 2/
(cents) Amount Cost Amount Cost ticks 2
Gasoline Gal. 26.3 0.70 $0.18 7.8 $ 2.05 $0.21
Motor oil Qt. 25.5 0.08 .02 .9 .23 .02
Grease Lb. 18.0 0.05 .01 .6 .11 .01
Service labor Hr. 50.0 0.07 .04 .8 .40 .04
Repairs 3/ .26 2.89 .29
Total $0.51 $ 5.68 $0.57
Overhead Cost 4/ 1.78 20.00 2.00
Total Cost $2.29 $25.68 $2.57
1/ Based on 11.2 hours per acre of operation
2/ Based on 1000 sticks per acre
2/ Estimated cost
4/ From Table 3
COMPARISON OF THE COST OF HARVESTING TOBACCO WITH A
TOBACCO HARVESTER AND THE USUAL METHOD
The cost of harvesting tobacco depends on the amount of labor and the cost of operating the
equipment used. In the case of tobacco harvested with a harvester the big cost for equipment is
the cost of operating the harvesting machine.
Labor Required to Harvest an Acre of Tobacco
The harvester manufacturer recommends that a crew of seven be used in operating the har-
vester-four croppers, two stringers, and a machine driver. However, the majority of the operators
found that two stringers could not tie the tobacco as fast as the leaves were cropped by the crop-
pers. Most of these operators, therefore, used in addition to the crew recommended by the manu-
facturer, two additional stringers and a walking cropper, which increased the crew from seven to
ten (Table 5). An additional stringing horse was installed on the outside of each of the conveyor
chains and a platform built to provide working space for these extra stringers. The walking cropper
was more or less a "clean-up" man. His job was to follow the harvester, crop the ripe leaves the
riding croppers missed, and pick up the leaves that were dropped. One large grower estimated
that the walking cropper was worth about $50 per day in the value of salvaged tobacco.
TABLE 5.- NORMAL MAN LABOR REQUIREMENTS FOR HARVESTING TOBACCO,
COLUMBIA AND SUWANNEE COUNTIES, FLORIDA, 1954.
Usual Number of Hours per Acre Total Hours
Operation Crew Croppings per Cropping Per Acre Per 100 Sticks 1/
Riding 4 7 1.6 44.8 4.5
Walking 1 7 1.6 11.2 1.1
Machine driver 1 7 1.6 11.2 1.1
Stringers 4 7 1.6 44.8 4.5
Barn hangers 5 7 .6 21.0 2.1
Total 133.0 13.3
Croppers 4 7 1.8 50.4 5.0
Tractor drivers 2 7 1.8 25.2 2.5
Sled unloader 1 7 1.8 12.6 1.3
Handers 6 7 1.8 75.6 7.5
Stringers 3 7 1.8 37.8 3.8
Stick boy 1 7 1.8 12.6 1.3
Barn hangers 7 7 .5 24.5 2.5
Total 238.7 23.9
1/ Based on 1000 sticks per acre.
The normal crew for harvesting tobacco in the usual way was four croppers, two tractor
drivers, one sled unloader, six handers, three stringers and a stick boy (Table 5).
In the machine method of harvesting it required 1.6 hours per cropping for a crew to harvest
an acre of tobacco. If an acre were cropped 7 times it would require 133 hours of man labor per
acre including 21.0 hours spent in hanging the tobacco in the barn. This compares to about 239
hours by the usual method of harvesting including hanging the tobacco in the barn. This means
that a labor saving of 106 man hours per acre, or 44 percent, was realized by using the harvester.
In other words, approximately 10.6 man days at $5 each or $53 per acre labor cost were saved by
using the harvester. This saving was realized largely by the elimination of the wanders (76 man
hours), the sled unloader (13 man hours) and the stick boy (13 man hours). On a per-100-sticks
basis labor requirements were 13.3 and 23.9 man hours for the harvester and usual methods re-
spectively. By the use of the harvester 10.6 hours were eliminated and at a rate of 50 cents per
hour this amounts to $5.30 per 100 sticks.
Cost per Acre of Harvesting Tobacco
In calculating the cost of harvesting tobacco all operations were included, from taking the
leaves off of the stalk until they were placed in the curing barns. The operations of curing the
tobacco and removing it from the barn were not included, since the labor for these operations
remains the same whether the usual method or a harvester is used.
The estimated normal cost of harvesting an acre of tobacco by the machine method at the
rates observed in this study was $105.72 (Table 6). Expressed on a per 100 sticks or a per pound
TABLE 6.- ESTIMATED NORMAL COST OF HARVESTING TOBACCO WITH A TOBACCO
HARVESTER, COLUMBIA AND SUWANNEE COUNTIES, FLORIDA, 1954.
Rate per Cost per Acre Cost per Cost per
Item Hour 1/ Hours 2/ Cost 100 Sticks 3/ Pound 4/
Cropper-riding $0.52 44.8 $ 23.30 $ 2.33 1.55
Cropper-walking .52 11.2 5.82 .58 .39
Harvester driver .51 11.2 5.71 .57 .38
Stringers .52 44.8 23.30 2.33 1.55
Barn hangers .51 21.0 10.71 1.07 .72
Total 133.0 $ 68.84 $ 6.88 4.59
Machine use 5/ 2.29 11.2 25.68 2.57 1.71
Use of truck 1.00 11.2 11.20 1.12 .75
Total Cost $105.72 $10.57 7.05
1/ In general workers are hired on a per day basis. Frequently a worker hired for a specific job will be used
for a short period of time on other jobs. In converting to an hourly wage rate, the day wage was prorated
to the various jobs according to the time spent on each. This resulted in an hourly wage rate frequently
being expressed in odd cents.
2/Man hours from Table 5. Machine and truck use are based on a harvest time of 11.2 hours per acre for
/ Based on 1000 sticks per acre.
4/ Based on 1500 pounds per acre.
/ Based on data in Table 4.
TABLE 7.- ESTIMATED NORMAL COST OF HARVESTING TOBACCO BY THE USUAL
METHOD, COLUMBIA AND SUWANNEE COUNTIES, FLORIDA, 1954.
Rate per Cost per Acre Cost per Cost per
Item Hour I/ Hours 2/ Cost 100 Sticks 3/ Pound 4/
Croppers $0.50 50.4 $ 25.20 $ 2.52 1.68
Tractor drivers .44 25.2 11.09 1.11 .74
Sled unloader .46 12.6 5.80 .58 .39
Handers .42 75.6 31.75 3.17 2.12
Stringers .49 37.8 18.52 1.85 1.23
Stick boy .41 12.6 5.17 .52 .34
Barn hangers .45 24.5 11.02 1.10 .74
Total 238.7 $108.55 $10.85 7.24
Use of tractor 5 .68 25.2 17.14 1.72 1.14
Total Cost $125.69 $12.57 8.38
1/ See footnote 1, Table 6.
2/ Man hours from Table 5. Tractor use based on a harvest time of 13.3 hours per acre for seven croppings.
./ Based on 1000 sticks per acre.
4/ Based on 1500 pounds per acre.
5/ Rate per hour for tractor labor based on unpublished data, "Adjustments in Farming in North Florida,"
State Project 647.
of tobacco basis, harvesting cost was $10.57 and 7.05 cents respectively. The estimated cost of
harvesting tobacco by the usual method was $125.69 per acre or 8.38 cents per pound (Table 7).
When tobacco is worth 50 cents per pound, harvesting cost amounts to about 14 percent of the
value by the machine method and 17 percent of the value by the usual method.
When the normal cost of harvesting tobacco by the two methods is compared, a saving of
$19.97 per acre or 16 percent was realized by using the machine method (Table 8). Savings on a
per 100 sticks basis was $2.00 and on a per pound basis 1.33 cents.
TABLE 8.- COMPARISON OF ESTIMATED NORMAL COST OF HARVESTING TOBACCO BY
THE USUAL METHOD AND WITH A TOBACCO HARVESTER, COLUMBIA AND
SUWANNEE COUNTIES, FLORIDA, 1954.
Item Method Harvester Difference
Cost per acre $125.69 $105.72 $19.97
Cost per 100 sticks 12.57 10.57 2.00
Cost per pound (cents) 8.38 7.05 1.33
Effects of Acres Harvested and Estimated Life of Harvester
on Cost of Operating a Harvester
In general, as the number of acres harvested by a machine is increased, the cost per acre is
decreased. This is true since there are certain fixed costs that are about the same regardless of
the amount of use. When more acres are harvested these costs are distributed over a larger number
of acres so the cost per acre is less.
The estimated normal cost of operating a harvester for different expected life-periods and
acres harvested is given in Table 9. In calculating these costs it was assumed that length of
life and amount of repairs was the same regardless of the amount of use. It is recognized that
there would be some variation in these items by amount of use but the nature of the harvester is
such that they would not vary materially. These data do give a good indication of the change in
per acre cost of operating a harvester due to variation in expected life and amount of use. For a
life of eight years, the cost per acre of operating a harvester would be $42.39 when 10 acres
were harvested compared to $16.93 per acre when 28 acres were harvested. As the acres harvested
by a machine are reduced the point is eventually reached where the machine cost per acre is so
great the cost of harvesting tobacco with a machine is more than the cost of harvesting with the
Tobacco growers often asked, "what is the smallest number of acres I should harvest in
order to buy a harvester?"; or, to express it another way, "at what point will the cost of harvest-
ing with a harvester be as low or lower than the cost of harvesting by the usual method?" If the
cost per acre of harvesting tobacco for different estimated life-periods and acres harvested as
shown in Table 9 is substituted for the machine cost in Table 6 the cost of harvesting tobacco
with specified amount of use and length of life can be estimated. For example, at eight years of
life and 10 acres harvested the cost of operating the harvester is $42.39 per acre. If this amount
is substituted for the machine cost of $25.68 in Table 6 the total cost per acre of harvesting
tobacco with a harvester is $122.43 instead of $105.72.
Data in Table 10 show the estimated cost per acre of harvesting tobacco with a harvester and
savings compared to the usual method for specified amount of use and life of harvester. For an
estimated life of 6 years more than 10 acres of tobacco would have to be harvested before the
TABLE 9.- ESTIMATED NORMAL COST PER ACRE OF OPERATING A TOBACCO HARVESTER
FOR SPECIFIED LIFE OF HARVESTER AND ACRES HARVESTED, COLUMBIA
AND SUWANNEE COUNTIES, FLORIDA 1954 1/.
Estimated Life of Harvester
Acres Harvested 6 Years 8 Years 10 Years
6 $82.29 $68.79 $60.68
8 64.42 52.29 46.21
10 50.49 42.39 37.53
12 42.54 35.79 31.73
14 36.86 31.07 27.60
16 32.60 27.54 24.50
18 29.29 24.79 22.09
20 26.64 22.59 20.16
22 24.47 20.79 18.59
24 22.67 19.29 17.26
26 21.14 18.02 16.15
28 19.83 16.93 15.19
30 18.69 15.99 14.37
32 17.70 15.16 13.64
1/ Based on a purchase cost of $2,057, see Table 3.
TABLE 10.- ESTIMATED COST PER ACRE OF HARVESTING TOBACCO WITH A TOBACCO
HARVESTER AND SAVINGS COMPARED WITH USUAL METHOD FOR SPECIFIED
LIFE OF HARVESTER AND ACRES HARVESTED, COLUMBIA AND SUWANNEE
COUNTIES, FLORIDA, 1954.
Estimated Life of Harvester
6 Years 8 Years 10 Years
Acres Savings Savings Savings
Harvested Cost for over usual Cost for over usual Cost for over usual
Harvester Method Harvester Method Harvester Method
6 $162 $-36 $149 $ -23 $141 $ -15
8 142 -16 132 6 126
10 131 5 123 3 118 8
12 123 3 116 10 112 14
14 117 9 111 15 108 18
16 113 13 108 18 105 21
18 109 17 105 21 102 24
20 107 19 103 23 100 26
22 105 21 101 25 99 27
24 103 23 99 27 97 29
26 101 25 98 28 96 30
28 100 26 97 29 95 31
30 99 27 96 30 95 31
32 98 28 95 31 94 32
cost by the machine method would be less than the cost by the hand method. If the estimated life
of the harvester were 10 years the cost of harvesting with the harvester and the usual method is
about the same at 8 acres.
The data in Table 10 emphasize the necessity of increasing the number of acres harvested in
order to get an advantage from using a tobacco harvester. In a majority of cases a harvester owner
must do custom harvesting to increase the number of acres harvested since acreage allotments are
usually low. When custom harvesting is done, the rate should be an amount at least sufficient to
allow the machine owner to break even on the cost of harvesting. However, it will pay a machine
operator to use his machine for custom work as long as he receives an amount more than the vari-
able cost of harvesting the tobacco ($82.83 per acre based on calculation used in this report)
with a machine. Any amount received above variable cost is available to cover fixed cost, and
this tends to reduce fixed cost as far as the owner's crop is concerned.
Assuming that tobacco will yield about 1,000 sticks per acre from seven croppings and the
cost of machine harvesting is $103 per acre including use of the harvester when 20 acres are har-
vested (assuming 8 years of life), a harvester owner must get an average of 10.3 cents a stick or
about $14.71 per acre each time it is cropped to break even on custom work. This would not allow
any margin for risk taking or profit. The usual rate for custom harwsting was approximately $17
per acre or lower for each cropping. However, the 12 growers who did custom work harvested an
average of only 132 sticks per acre per cropping on the custom acreage. The minimum custom rate,
based on a harvesting cost of $108 per acre would have to be 11.1 cents per stick for them to
Time Required For Harvester to Return Purchase Cost
If a person borrows money to purchase a piece of equipment he needs some indication as to
whether earnings will be sufficient to meet payments on the loan or how long is necessary for the
earnings to equal the value of the equipment. If a machine was to be paid for out of its earnings
the amount that could be applied on the loan would be the annual savings plus the charge for
depreciation. If the same number of acres are harvested the amount available to apply on the pur-
chase cost is not affected by the expected life of the equipment. Depreciation is increased or
decreased in proportion to estimated life. Annual savings vary in the opposite direction from
depreciation so when the two'are added together the net amount is the same.
Table 11 shows the amount available to cover the purchase cost of the equipment for speci-
fied amount of use. For 10 acres of use it would require 7.0 years to cover purchase cost while
at 20 acres it would require only 2.8 years. Half of the farmers in this study used their machines
for custom work. Where custom work is done the amount available for a given acreage would not
be shown in Table 11 unless the amount received per acre for the custom work was as much
as it would have cost to harvest the tobacco by the usual method.
Maximum Acreage One Machine Can Handle
The most common practice is to crop each acre of tobacco every seventh day. At times this
is not often enough and some of the tobacco is lost due to overripeness or burning in the field. If
a harvester crew works six days a week, crops five acres a day, and each acre is cropped every
fifth, sixth, or seventh day, the maximum acreage for one machine is 20, 25 or 30 acres respective-
ly. If a crew crops only four acres a day the maximum acreage for a machine is only 16, 20 or 24
acres for tobacco that is cropped every fifth, sixth, or seventh day respectively. The number of
acres a machine can handle can be increased if all of the tobacco was not planted at the same
time so the harvest could be spread over a longer period of time.
TIME REQUIRED FOR A HARVESTER TO RETURN ITS PURCHASE
COST WITH VARIOUS ACREAGES HARVESTED, COLUMBIA AND
SUWANNEE COUNTIES, FLORIDA, 1954.
Harvested Amount Available to Years for the Harvester to
Acreage Cover Purchase Cost Return Purchase Cost
6 $ 104 18.6
8 190 10.2
10 276 7.0
12 361 5.4
14 447 4.3
16 533 3.6
18 619 3.1
20 704 2.8
22 790 2.5
24 876 2.2
26 961 2.0
28 1,047 1.9
30 1,133 1.7
32 1,219 1.6
DISCUSSION OF RESULTS
In appraising the results in this report one should keep in mind that the differences in cost
by the machine and the usual method are meaningful only if the farmer has to hire a large part of
his labor. If most of the labor is family, reducing the number of hours required does not reduce cost
unless there is some other use for the labor. If the use of a harvester results in a decrease in the
amount of labor hired, the reduction is a saving to the operator.
Calculations have been made to show the estimated normal cost of harvesting tobacco with a
harvester and the usual method. Data are also presented showing the effects of variations in
length of life and amount of use on the cost of harvesting tobacco with a harvester and the savings
in cost compared with the usual method.
Length of life and variation in amount of use are not the only factors that affect the relative
cost by the two methods. Change in wage rates, relative cost of operating a truck and a tractor, or
variation in yield per acre of tobacco would also affect the differences in cost by the two methods.
Calculations of differences due to these factors have not been presented because sufficient data
are not available to make reliable estimates, especially on variations due to yields. It also is not
anticipated there will be much change in wage rates in the next few years.
PROBLEMS AND SUGGESTIONS
There are features about any machine that are not satisfactory to every user regardless of the
changes that have been or will be made. In general, the shorter the time the machine has been in
use the larger the number of features that need changing. Since the harvester has been in use
only one year, there are "bugs"that need eliminating. However, eight of the 24 owners interviewed
reported that there were not any features about the harvester that gave them trouble. Listed below
are the items reported by the farmers as giving them the most trouble in operating the tobacco
Conveyor Assembly: The greatest number of complaints dealt with the conveyor chains. The
cable drive to the chains or the shear pin in the cable seemed to break without undue stress. In
all probability this feature was not as serious as it seemed. The cable can be repaired in a re-
latively short time. If it did not break first, some other more expensive and time-consuming repair
job might be faced due to the breakage of another part.
There was some concern over the conveyor chains jumping the sprockets on which they ride.
This can be corrected by shortening the chains and reducing the slack that allows them to leave
the sprockets. Rank or large leaves of tobacco are more likely to fall out of the leaf holders than
normal sized leaves. A stronger spring for holding the leaf holder disks together could be installed
and possibly eliminate this fault.
Clutch Assembly: Six complaints were made about the clutch slipping and not developing the
full power of the motor.
Power Mechanism: Cases were found where cogs on the sprocket of the drive wheel broke due
to the drive chain not fitting properly. Two of the owners had motors to "burn up." It was impos-
sible to determine if this was a fault of the motor or due to the owner not keeping the motor oil at
the proper level or changing oil as often as recommended.
Brake Pedal: The perpendicular brake pedal extends above the floor of the upper deck exces-
sively, resulting in skinned shins to the driver and stringer on the left side of the machine. The
brakes would be as effective if the height of the pedal was reduced a considerable amount.
Changes Made by the Owners
Operators of new equipment often find it necessary to make certain adjustments to make the
equipment operate more satisfactorily for their conditions. Eight of the owners made no changes
on the harvester but operated it as it came from the factory. Some of the adjustments that were
made are discussed below.
Additional Stringers Added: Adding space and facilities for two additional stringers was the
most important alteration made. In normally ripe tobacco of average size the croppers could crop
the leaves faster than it could be strung and tied by two stringers. This made it necessary to
reduce the speed of operation to the capacity of the stringers. Thirteen owners added two addi-
tional stringers to increase the speed of operation. In order to provide the necessary facilities
and space, a stringing horse and platform or "wing" was added on the outside of each conveyor
chain. The monetary cost of these alterations ranged from practically nothing for the man who
made and installed his own facilities to $40 for those who had them made and installed by a
machine shop. The additional stringers speeded the harvesting operation to the extent that there
was less difficulty in loading a barn in one day and less risk that the tobacco would become
overripe and burn in the field. Consequently, the economic advantage of using four instead of two
stringers is significant.
Improved Working Conditions: The floor of the upper deck of the harvester vibrated when the
motor was running. This, at times, caused workers to become dizzy, thus reducing their efficiency
and increasing the danger of injury. To remedy this situation, one machine owner provided rubber
mats on which the stringers could stand. Another bolted a wooden platform mounted on one-inch
coil springs to the floor of the upper deck to absorb the vibration.
The exhaust from the motor was placed so that fumes blew back in the faces of the workers
and was rather disagreeable. The exhaust pipe was extended above the canvas top to remedy this
The frame in back of the rear croppers was straightened to increase the working space for
Mechanical Changes: In one instance the owner found that the tobacco in the conveyor chains
dragged on the frame of the harvester and was bruised. He moved a conveyor chain sprocket to
provide enough clearance between the chain and frame to eliminate this fault. Another owner put
hoods or shields in front of the croppers to push aside leaning stalks. Two other changes were
made. A larger conveyor chain pulley sprocket was installed to increase the speed of the chain
and a smaller sprocket was installed on the drive wheel to slow the harvester down.
Owners' Suggested Changes
The operators interviewed were asked to suggest changes that they thought would improve
the efficiency of the operation of the harvester.
Install Starter and Change Motor: The motor is cranked with a fly wheel and crank rope. The
fly wheel is not easily accessible and this makes cranking difficult. Several owners suggested
the installation of a starter. Five owners thought a better and larger (4 cylinder) motor should be
Adjustments of the Controls: To stop the motor, the driver must get off and go to the front of
the machine to reach the controls. The controls could be placed near the driver on the upper deck
to eliminate climbing on and off the harvester. Three owners thought that the height of the brake
pedal should be reduced and the brakes improved. Easier steering was recommended. One owner
thought that the steering wheel and other controls should be moved to the lower deck so that the
driver would be better able to adjust the machine's speed to the needs of the croppers.
Additional Stringing Facilities: A great majority of the owners thought that the factory should
provide working space and facilities for the two additional stringers rather than requiring them to
resort to homemade facilities.
Conveyor Chain Changes: Since only one conveyor chain is available for two croppers and it
travels from the rear to the front of the harvester, the front cropper frequently finds the leaf holders
full when he attempts to put a hand of tobacco in them. It was suggested that a conveyor chain be
provided for each cropper.
Miscellaneous Changes: As the storage racks become full the greater part of the weight of
the machine is shifted toward the rear. This reduces the load on the drive wheel and thus traction
is reduced. For this reason one grower recommended that the drive wheel be placed under the
center of the greatest portion of the load. More storage rack space should be provided by making
the machine longer. Sunburning of the tobacco in the racks could be reduced by providing curtains
or covers to go around the racks.
Many of the troublesome features, changes made by the owners and owner's suggested changes,
have been remedied or undertaken by the manufacturer during this first year of operation at no
cost to the owner. Many more probably will be made in the future to insure the greatest satisfac-
tion possible to the harvester owners.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Harvester
All of the owners found specific advantages in using the machine to harvest tobacco. Reduced
labor requirements was the first advantage listed by each of the 24 growers. They emphasized that
harvesting with the machine was less "back-breaking." Since fewer workers were required, there
was less aggravation in assembling a harvesting crew and the most inefficient workers could be
eliminated. Although the labor problem involved in harvesting was not solved, its headaches were
When tobacco is harvested by the usual method, the number of times it is handled and the
way it is handled tends to bruise the leaves and to reduce quality to a considerable degree. It
was the opinion of the operators that using the machine method of harvesting reduced the amount
of handling and the amount of bruising and thus increased quality. As a rule, a relatively large
number of leaves are dropped on the ground around the stringing table when the usual method is
used. This tobacco is walked on by the workers and soon becomes a total loss. Much of this loss
is eliminated by using the harvester.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The large amount of hand labor required to harvest flue-cured tobacco has spurred the drive
to develop a harvesting machine. Such equipment was used in Florida during the 1954 harvest
season and 77 harvesters were operated in nine counties. Records were obtained from 24 operators
in Columbia and Suwannee Counties to determine amount of use, cost and problems involved in
operating a harvester and cost of harvesting tobacco with a harvester and by the usual method.
The 24 growers surveyed harvested an average of 17.3 acres per machine, 12.5 acres on their
own farms and 4.8 acres on a custom basis. The cash purchase cost of a harvester was $1,945
and the estimated life 8 years. The estimated cost of operating the harvester was $25.68 per acre
or $2.57 per 100 sticks. About three-fourths of the operating cost was overhead cost.
It was estimated that 133 hours were required to harvest an acre of tobacco with a machine
and 239 hours by the usual method. The total cost per acre of harvesting with a machine was ap-
proximately $106 compared to $126 by the usual method. The harvester resulted in a saving of $20
per acre or 1.33 cents per pound of tobacco assuming a normal yield of 1500 pounds.
The cost per acre of operating the harvester is greatly affected by the estimated life of the
harvester and the acres harvested annually. For an estimated life of 8 years the cost of operating
the harvester is $42.39 if only 10 acres are harvested but only $22.59 when 20 acres are harvested.
Because allotted acreages are usually small, a farmer owning a harvester may find it necessary
to do custom work to reduce the cost of operating the harvester. When only 10 acres are harvested
it would require 7.0 years for the savings from the use of the harvester to be enough to return its
purchase cost. If 20 acres were harvested the purchase cost could be returned in 2.8 years.
A man who has sufficient acreage available for harvesting and who has or can obtain the
capital is making a wise move by buying a harvester. This is especially true if he has to hire the
greater portion of his labor to harvest by the usual method since his out-of-pocket cost is high in
this case. The quality of the cured tobacco is improved due to less bruising. A large portion of
the tobacco wasted with the usual method is saved by using the harvester, and many of the prob-
lems pertaining to labor are eliminated.