Topping burley tobacco in a field off Lewis Ferry Road, Franklin County.  August 28, 2002.  5:28 p.m. EDT.  The view is south.

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Photographer's comments:
     Topping--breaking off flower stalks so a plant's energy is directed to leaf development--is one of the few solitary tasks in a season of raising and harvesting burley tobacco.  Topping isn't as physically demanding as much of the other work in burley tobacco and it doesn't have to been done all at once, so the grower usually does it himself.
     Let me clarify the above statement:  the grower traditionally tops tobacco himself.  In these days of change in the tobacco business, few things are still done traditionally.  So I wouldn't be surprised to see a whole crew of hired workers sweeping through a field of flowering tobacco, topping the lot in a half-hour, then getting on a truck to go off to the next field.
     But in the photo above, this man is working alone.  I don't know who he is, but it's an easy guess that he is the man who owns all the tobacco you see in the picture, which is only about a fourth of the entire field.  By topping the tobacco himself, he saves the money he would have to spend hiring extra help.  Just as importantly, topping is the only time during the growing season that the grower gets to touch and inspect every one of his plants.
     While topping, the grower also may pull off some of the largest "suckers", immature leaves on the stalk that "suck" water and nutrients from the rest of the plant.  Once topping is done, the field will be sprayed with MH-30, a chemical that kills the rest of the suckers and speeds ripening of the plant.  Harvesting begins two or three weeks after the plants are sprayed.
     By the way, the field in the above photo is bottomland next to a bend in the Kentucky River, and the tobacco is some of the best I've seen in this hot, dry summer. 
 
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Other photos of this subject:
     1) Detailed photographs of tobacco blooms, from July 2002 in Shelby County.  
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Posted September 1, 2002.