2009 TOBACCO STORY OF THE YEAR
"Something new in Virginia tobacco"
By Zac Sarian
Don’t look now, but a number of things are happening to improve the income of Virginia tobacco farmers not only in the Ilocos but also elsewhere. One is the dissemination of two new varieties that produce higher-priced flue-cured leaves, are higher-yielding and are also more resistant to pests and diseases.
Another development is an innovation in the flue-curing barn that uses strong carton as siding in the upper portion instead of the more expensive materials.
A third technology is the use of the bio-organic fertilizer Durabloom in combination with special formulations of chemical fertilizers which results in bigger and thicker leaves.
The New Varieties
One of the planters of the new varieties, NC2326 and K326, is Victor Valledor of Brgy. Lapting, San Juan, Ilocos Sur. He is an agriculturist of the National Tobacco Administration who is also planting Virginia tobacco in his own farm. He said that the two new varieties were introduced in San Juan in 2002. They are also known as “Topped Tobacco”. That is because when the NC2326 has produced 14 leaves, it is detopped. In the case of K326, it is detopped when it has produced 18 to 20 leaves. The purpose is to make the leaves thicker, bigger and with puckered appearance. The plants also have leaves with higher nicotine content.
Valledor explained that cigarette manufacturers prefer the leaves with higher nicotine content because they produce the aroma desired by smokers and they also have a better burning quality. One more thing, the flue-cured leaves of the two new varieties command a higher price than the ordinary varieties. The first class leaves are currently sold at P91 per kilo whereas the first class of the old varieties fetch only P77 per kilo.
Moreover, about 70 percent of the flue-cured leaves of the new varieties are of the high quality that fetch P91 per kilo; 20 percent at P77 per kilo and only 10 percent, the lowest quality, at P60 per kilo. The percentage of high quality leaves is much higher than that of the old varieties.
The two new varieties also produce higher yields than the traditional ones. They usually yield 1.8 to 2.4 tons per hectare compared to the 1.5 tons produced by the old varieties. The yield is higher and the price is also higher.
The Improved Flue-Curing Barn
The innovated flue-curing barn has its own advantages. Because it uses durable carton for its sidings in the upper portion of the structure, one unit that can take care of curing the harvest from one hectare costs only about P40,000. On the other hand, if the usual materials are used, the cost could be more than P54,000.
Another innovation in the barn is that the firing pit is dug one meter below the surface of the ground. It is the same system used in the traditional way of cooking muscovado sugar in the Ilocos. Besides being cheaper to construct, it has another advantage in that it can also effectively use fuel other than wood from the forest. Corn cobs, corn stover and anything that will burn can be used as fuel. That is possible because of the firing pit that is dug one meter below the surface of the ground. In the case of the old flue-curing barn, the fuel wood is entered above the surface of the ground.
The use of Durabloom, a processed bio-organic fertilizer inoculated with enzymes and beneficial microorganisms, also offers significant benefits, according to Valledor. He has observed that the leaves of his tobacco plants fertilized with Durabloom have a longer ripening period. For instance, those fertilized with chemical fertilizers alone ripen in 56 days from planting. On the other hand, those fertilized with Durabloom ripen 65 days after planting. This is an advantage because leaves that ripen longer become thicker and heavier and also have better curing quality. The leaves are orange in color and contain higher nicotine sought by cigarette manufacturers. Also, soil fertilized with the organic fertilizer retains moisture longer, hence frequent irrigation may not be needed.
Valledor applied 15 bags of Durabloom bio-organic fertilizer per hectare before planting the seedlings in the field. Then it was followed by a side-dressing of a mixture of chemical fertilizers 21 days after transplanting. Valledor combined 4 bags of potassium nitrate (13-0-46), 2 bags of sulfate of potash (0-0-60) and 1 bag of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0). The chemical fertilizer application was followed by hilling-up and furrow irrigation.
Tobacco Dust for Fishponds
Cigarettes are not the only commercial product from tobacco. Turning the leaves and other parts of the tobacco plant into dust or powder has a big commercial potential. The dust is used to treat fishponds so as to eliminate predators like snails and other shells that are detrimental to the growth of stocked fish like tilapia, bangus, pangasius and other species.
Today, many fishpond owners use imported tea seed from China to eliminate predators in their ponds. Tobacco dust is just as effective and could be cheaper. The thing is that tobacco dust should be made available to the fish farmers. This is one investment opportunity for local entrepreneurs.