Grading of tobacco is done through the following steps:

Taking the leaf from the bulk store;

Conditioning the leaf to prevent damage while it is being handled; Weighing out the scales for each grade;

Delivering the scales to the graders; Grading each leaf;

Checking the grades;

Packing the leaf into bales and sewing up the bales; and Storing the bales until delivery to the Tobacco Auctions.

All these processes require good organisation to make sure there is a smooth flow of leaf through the grading shed. The figure on the next page shows the layout recommended for the grading and packing shed.

The man whose job it is to make up the scales, the parcels of tobacco for each grader, transfers the loose leaf from the bulk store to a conditioning box. He should be able to judge how much leaf to put into a box and when he has filled several boxes he should weigh each one separately adding or removing leaves until the required weight is obtained.

In the case of strings with the leaves attached the man counts the number of strings issued to each grader. Conditioning boxes can be made out of timber, waterproof hardboard or galvanized metal, and there should be more boxes than graders. Once the boxes have been filled with the correct weight of leaves, each one holding one scaler is placed into a steam box and steam is passed through the leaves to moisten and condition them. The butts of the leaves should be facing downwards in the box so that the steam can pass up through the wire mesh of the steam box through the wire mesh bottom of the conditioning box and up through the butts of the leaves. Excess steam from the steam box should be passed out of the grading shed. Figure 2 on page 74 shows a steam box.

Figure 1: Arrangement of a Tobacco Grading Shed

Figure 2: A Steam Box


Each grader collects his first scale of conditioned tobacco at the start of the day and then the man who weighs and conditions the scales delivers them to the grader. In a large grading shed this man has a trolley to move the boxes of leaves to the graders. One man can weigh out and condition enough tobacco for between 8 and 25 graders depending on the number of leaves per kg. With 100 leaves per kg he can supply 8 graders. With 200 leaves per kg he can supply 16 graders and with 320 leaves per kg he can supply 25 graders.

The work of the grader consists of four basic actions. These are:

Pick up a leaf; Open the leaf;

Allocate a grade to the leaf; and

Place the leaf in the right grade compartment.

The scale or the bundle of tobacco to be graded should be put on a shelf below the grading table and the grader takes small bundles of leaves from this shelf. If the leaves are tied in strings, the grader will have to untie each string, grade the leaves and place the string on a peg so that it can be used again the following year.

To do a good job of grading it is necessary to fully open up the leaf so that any blemishes can be seen. Tobacco that has been tightly compressed during the bulk storage period can be very difficult to unroll, and can cause a lot of time to be wasted.

Allocating a grade to each leaf will depend on the experience of the grader and the type of crop being graded. With an even crop and few grades the process can be quick but with an uneven crop with many grades more time will be required by the grader. The number of leaves graded in an eight‐hour day can vary from 6 000 to 10 000, the latter figure being a rate of 20 leaves per minute. The actual weight of tobacco graded will depend on the number of leaves in a kg. A grader doing 7500 leaves a day and the leaves weighing in at 150 to the kg his daily output would be:

7500 = 50 kg per day 150

The different grades and the design of the grading table were dealt with in the last lecture. Each grade has its own compartment on the grading table and it is desirable to have the same compartments for each grade throughout the shed.


Once the grading process has started the leaves that have been graded are examined by the check‐ grader. His job is to inspect the leaves, make sure they have been graded correctly and then deliver them to the master‐grader or blender. This can be done by hand or by the use of a trolley. The check‐grader should never re‐grade leaves. If he thinks they have been graded incorrectly, he should return them to the grader and explain the faults. There are two systems of check‐grading:

One check‐grader checks all the tobacco graded by five graders. His table is situated near his graders and he works with them as a team. The amount of work which he does will depend on the output and accuracy of his graders. The advantage of this system is that the team can be given incentive payments on leaves graded. The disadvantage is that each grader tends to send forward his version of each grade and this may be different from the ideas of the other check‐graders and a final inspection may be necessary. In addition, the check‐grader tends to become an extra grader rather than an inspector.

The check‐grader deals with one or more grades from all the graders in the shed. He moves around the shed with a trolley collecting his grades from the graders, inspecting it and delivering it to the blender. The problem with this system is to balance the grades given to the check‐graders, although the most difficult grades can be given to the best check‐graders. Whichever system is used, the problem is to stop the check‐graders from becoming simply extra graders.

Once the leaves have been passed by the check‐graders they are delivered to the master‐grader or blender. His position in the grading shed is shown in figure 1 on page 73. The blender should carry out the following tasks:

Make sure that all the leaves have been correctly graded; Ensure that the check‐graders are using the correct grades; If possible, blend or mix the grades;

Make sure that grades are not accidentally mixed up before tying and baling; and To issue graded leaves to the tyers.

The blender should never grade tobacco. Badly‐graded tobacco leaves should be sent back to the check‐grader who delivered them.

Grading is easier if the number of grades is kept to a minimum. Ideally the farmer should operate with about 12 grades plus the strip and scrap grades.


The blender issues tobacco to the tyers whose job it is to tie the graded leaves together into bundles or hands. Bales that are not sold because they are mixed are usually turned down because they contain mixed hands of tobacco, rather than mixed leaves within the hands, so that it would seem that mixing occurs when the bales are being packed rather than when the hands are being tied. Tying is done at special tables and the bundles of leaves are tied with a leaf of tobacco around the butts. A medium‐sized leaf of the same grade of tobacco should be used for tying and no other material should be used. Leaves of the same length should be tied together and leaves shorter than 230mm must be stripped. A good tyer should be able to tie 80 to 90 hands in an hour or 640 to 720 hands in an 8 hour working day.

Once the hands are tied and enough are ready they can be baled for sale. All tobacco is sold in bales and each bale has to be wrapped in new or undamaged waterproof paper or polythene and therafter wrapped with clean hessian sacking. The size of a bale should be 600mm by 850mm and the weight can vary from 100kgs up to a maximum of 110kgs. The tobacco in a bale should be all the same grade unless a bale is marked as being a split bale. In that case it can contain up to 4 different grades which must be separated with sheets of paper. Grades in a split bale should be of a similar type and quality as the price paid for it is going to be related to the price of the lowest grade in the bale. The minimum weight for a split bale is 25kgs.

Tobacco is packed for baling by placing the hands in a baling box and then pressing the hands together by means of a screw press. Other types of press use compressed air, electricity or hydraulic pressure. The top and bottom boards of the baling box are removable and after filling the box and compressing the tobacco, metal clamps are fitted to hold the top and bottom boards together and left for 24 hours. The bale is then wrapped in the paper and hessian and the hessian is then stitched, weighed and marked for sale with the grower’s Registered Number and Lot Number. One important point is the condition of the tobacco that is baled. Leaf that is baled too wet will start to rot in the bale and leaf baled too dry will break. Baling is an important part of tobacco production because neatly baled tobacco will look better on the floors and will attract the eye of the buyer. Untidy, badly made and sown bales give a poor impression at the sale.


When selling tobacco at the tobacco auctions, the farmer can decide the order in which he wants his bales sold. The idea in grouping bales for sale is to hold the interest of the buyer for as long as possible and to help the starter, the man who calls out the starting price for each bale, to value a bale quickly and give it the best starting price. Tobacco is sold very quickly and in any one day about 600 tons of tobacco is sold on the auction floors so that both the starter and the buyers have to evaluate each bale in a matter of seconds. When grouping bales for sale, the following points are recommended:

Group leaf types (lugs, leaf, etc.) and styles (open grained, spotted etc.) separately;

Place the bales so that the best quality tobacco is sold first and the poor quality is sold last. In a fast sale the price will start high and it is possible to sell some of the poorer bales at higher prices;

Never put an odd bale into a standard run of tobacco because it interrupts the flow of the sale. The starter and the buyers have to value the odd bale and this tends to spoil their concentration;

Avoid putting even a slightly green bale of tobacco at the beginning of the sale as the buyer will be looking for more of that kind throughout the run of the bales;

Study the market throughout the season so that you know the styles and types of tobacco which are fetching the highest prices. Those are the ones to place at the start of a run of bales; and

Make sure that each bale is clearly marked so that it will be sold in the order which you want.

In general a fast sale is much better than one which goes in fits and starts. A buyer who is interested will have a good look at the first bale in a run and provided the following bales are alike, he will be able to concentrate on his bidding and the sale will flow along smoothly. Any odd bale in a run tends to break the flow of the sale and cause a drop in price which may take several bales to recover and while this is happening you are losing money.