Havana Corner: Cubans Growing New Tobacco Strains

Cuban farmers are experimenting with new tobacco types for the 2006-07 harvest in order to reduce the effects of blue mold and black shank and to achieve greater control over the distribution of seeds. Two new hybrids in particular are being tried: Capero No. 1 and Criollo 2006.

Sources would not tell me what the Capero is derived from, but the Criollo 2006 is a cross of Corojo, Habana 2000 and Criollo ’98. The three tobaccos represent the modern history of premium tobacco growing on the island, mostly for wrapper. Corojo, developed at the Corojo plantation in San Luis, was used from the 1930s to the mid-1990s. It was a low-yielding tobacco with beautiful appearance, but it became susceptible to blue mold in the late 1990s.

The Cubans then developed Habana 2000 in their tobacco research station in the Pinar del Río region, but the results were less than perfect, mostly because the leaves were hard to ferment after being cured in tobacco barns. Moreover, Habana 2000 also became susceptible to blue mold. This brought about the development of the Criollo ’98, which resembled Corojo in appearance and quality. But that had problems, too, in as it became sensitive to black shank, a fungus that attacks tobacco plants, primarily at the roots. In spite of that, Criollo 2006 is expected to be the best of all three.

Capero No. 1 is a new super-tobacco being developed, according to sources. It has four to five more leaves than a normal plant and never flowers. The latter is a plus for the Cuban government, which wishes to better control the distribution of tobacco seeds. In theory, all tobacco planted on the island should come from the government. And tobacco seeds should not be exported. In practice, things have worked differently.

Most of the last year’s crop was planted with Criollo ’98. The results were very high in quality, according to conversations with a number of tobacco growers. What was harvested and later cured was some of the best ever. However, a question mark remains with how the tobacco was processed, particularly the wrapper.

What I saw in a number of factories in Havana, however, was very high quality. The wrapper was uniformly colored with good oil and a silky texture. Obviously, this was not from the 2005-06 harvest. The filler tobacco looked particularly good, and I spotted some ligero from the 1999-2000 crop in the H. Upmann factory. Workers I spoke to in the sorting and blending rooms said the quality was optimo — excellent.


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