Popular Science Monthly/Volume 67/May 1905/The Cultivation of Tobacco in the Philippines

Popular Science Monthly Volume 67 May 1905  (1905) 
The Cultivation of Tobacco in the Philippines by A. M. Sanchez




TOBACCO was introduced into the Philippines soon after the Spaniards took possession, seed being brought from Mexico by Spanish missionaries. For many years little or no effort was made to restrict or encourage its cultivation, until 1781, when the cultivation and sale of tobacco was declared a state monopoly. In the tobacco growing districts of Luzon, each family was compelled to grow a certain number of plants and deliver the entire product to the agents of the government; no tobacco could be reserved for the use of the planter. Houses were searched for concealed tobacco and fines imposed for infractions of the law. These harsh provisions occasioned many riots and disturbances, and the monopoly was finally abolished in 1882. Since then, the cultivation and manufacture of tobacco have been in the hands of private individuals and companies.

At present tobacco-growing is one of the principal agricultural industries in the Philippines. The greater part of the tobacco is grown in the Island of Luzon, principally in the provinces of Isabela, Cagayan, Union, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and Batangas. Small quantities of tobacco are grown in the Visayan and southern islands, the greater quantities probably being produced in Masbate, Tablas, Panay, Bohol, Leyte, Siquijor, Negros and Mindanao.

The best quality of tobacco is grown on the light alluvial soils of the Cagayan River, in the provinces of Isabela and Cagayan. Isabela tobacco burns smoothly and freely, with a pleasant taste. The leaves are smooth, small in vein, thin in texture, stretch and cover well, and have an agreeable aroma.

Philippine tobacco is highly esteemed in the Orient. Its agreeable aroma and flavor have won for it a high place among cigar tobaccos. When we consider the desirable qualities of Philippine tobacco, with the primitive methods of cultivation in use, the imperfect curing and fermentation it receives, and the modern methods of treating the crop in America and other countries, it becomes quite clear that with modern scientific treatment, Philippine tobacco would be greatly improved, if not raised to rank among the best tobaccos of the world.

Soils and Fertilizers.

In the Cagayan Valley, where the best tobacco is grown, the general character of the soil is a sandy loam, three feet or more in depth, easily cultivated and in good physical condition. Small areas of loam or heavier soil are found in several places; but these are usually low depressions, where flood waters accumulate and stand long, thus allowing the fine particles of clay carried in suspension to settle on the surface of the ground. The lands cultivated to tobacco are the bottoms or lands subject to floods from the high waters of the Cagayan Eiver. Once or twice during the rainy season these lowlands are flooded to the depth of several feet by water carrying in suspension considerable quantities of fine sediment rich in fertilizing matter which, on standing, is deposited on the surface of the soil. No artificial fertilizer is used on the tobacco lands, and plants are entirely dependent on the fertilizing action of floods to supply the necessary amounts of the elements of fertility.

While the amount of fertilizing matter annually furnished these soils by the overflows of the Cagayan River is considerable, there is no doubt that with the aid of fertilizers much better results would be obtained.

Growing Tobacco under Shade.

In the province of Isabela one hectare of land was devoted this year (1903-1904) by one of the tobacco companies to an experiment in growing tobacco under shade. The construction of the shade was the same in all essential particulars as that commonly used in the Connecticut Valley and in Florida for growing fine-grade Sumatra tobacco, except that bamboo and bejuco (rattan) were substituted for hard-wood posts and nails. Owing to unavoidable delays, the field was planted too late in the season to obtain a representative result this year. It was observed, however, that the plants under shade were not attacked by insects and had broader, finer and darker-colored leaves than the plants outside. The superintendent in charge of the work expressed himself as convinced of the practicability of this method for producing a fine grade of tobacco for wrapping purposes. The Insular Bureau of Agriculture will conduct an experiment the coming season in growing Sumatra tobacco under shade.

Methods of Cultivation in Use.

The first operation in growing tobacco is the preparation of the seed-bed. This the native usually makes near his house, or preferably, in some cleared piece of ground in the woods near by. New or virgin soil is preferred, so that the young plants can have a vigorous growth and be in suitable condition for transplanting. Any brush and stumps that may be on the land are gathered and burned until entirely reduced to ashes. The ground is then stirred with the native plow or with an iron bar having a flattened end with a sharp edge. After breaking up all large clods and leveling the land, the seed is scattered broadcast on the surface and by means of planks pressed into the soil. Usually a shade is placed over the bed to protect the young plants from the direct rays of the sun. Forty to sixty days after planting, the plants are ready for transplanting. This begins about the last of December and is continued until the middle of February. Experience has shown that transplanting later than March does not give satisfactory results. The preparation of the field to which the young plants are to be transferred consists of plowing and harrowing, in which operations the corresponding native implements are used.

The ground being stirred, the native provides himself with a string of the same length as the width of the field. Each end of the string is securely attached to a stick for the purpose of laying out the rows. Sometimes the string itself is divided into spaces of two and one half feet by securely tying red ribbons at these intervals. These show where the plants are to go in the rows. After stretching the string across the field, the holes are made with a stick or bolo, about three inches deep and three inches wide. The holes are watered immediately after the plants are put in. The planting is done in the evening or very early in the morning, when the rays of the sun are not strong. After six or seven weeks from the transplanting the plants are usually ready for topping.

Topping.—When the flower buds begin to appear topping is begun. Usually from fifteen to twenty leaves are left on each plant.

Worming.—The battle with the worms begins in the seed-bed and does not end until the crop is harvested. No poisons are used, but the worms are caught by hand and killed. This is usually done in the mornings or late in the evenings.

Harvesting and Curing.— As a general rule the tobacco is primed; that is, the leaves of the plant are removed as they mature. It is customary to make five gatherings at intervals of about a week. The native collects the leaves and places them in large baskets which, when filled, are carried to the drying-shed in rough sleds or carts. If the soil is rich, a second profitable crop is produced from the suckers. As soon as the original crop is topped, suckers will sprout from each leaf. These, of course, are broken off as soon as they appear, otherwise they would hinder the growth of the leaves. When all the leaves have been primed from the original stalk, except three or four at the top, two suckers are allowed to grow from the bottom of the stalk. When the remaining leaves are removed, the stalk is cut just above where the suckers sprout and the field is immediately cultivated. It is claimed that when the season is favorable very good filler-tobacco is produced from the suckers.

In the drying-shed the leaves are sorted, usually into five classes, according to the size, color and condition of the leaf. The sorted leaves are put on sticks about one meter in length, the classes being kept separately. One hundred tobacco leaves are put on every stick and this is hung on the drying-shed to dry. The drying-shed most generally found in this country is made in the shape of the native house with roof, but with uncovered sides. The sticks with the tobacco leaves are hung on supports, usually set at the following distances: The first about five feet from the ground, the next two feet higher, while the succeeding ones usually have a distance between them of from three to four feet. It is seldom that the native takes the trouble to cover the sides of his shed and thus protect his tobacco from the intense sunlight, strong winds and rains. I have seen large quantities of tobacco hung on rafters to dry in the open fields, without any covering whatever to protect the leaves from the searching rays of the sun, and from the rains and dews. Again, the practise is very common of hanging the tobacco on poles horizontally suspended from the floors of the native shacks. More attention should be given to the proper construction of drying-sheds if the best results from the curing are to be obtained.

When dried, the tobacco is taken to some company's curing-house, where the first fermentation is done. The tobacco during this fermentation is still on the sticks used for hanging. The piles are kept at a temperature of between 35° and 40° C, the object being to give the tobacco a little color for guidance in classification and in further curing. After the first fermentation is complete, the tobacco is divided into five classes according to length and quality of the leaves. In the second fermentation, which is made with the tobacco in fardos, the temperature is kept at about 55° C. The piles are frequently turned over to secure the proper heat and regulate the fermentation. The success of the operation depends principally on the experience and skill of the manipulator, as there are so many vital points that enter into consideration.

The curing-houses owned by the several tobacco companies are not constructed so as to get the best results from the fermentation. Usually ventilation is lacking, and it is very difficult to control the fermentation the way that it should be done in order to obtain the shades of color in the tobacco which the market demands.

Yields of Tobacco.

The yields vary greatly with the seasons and also with the character of the soil. An average for several years from one acre is 610 lbs. In favorable seasons 3,000 lbs. of dry tobacco have been obtained from one acre of land.