Tobacco Farm in Indonesia

Tobacco Plantation in Indonesia

Tobacco plant is in the same botanical family as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers or eggplants. An adaptive species, it can be grown economically from 50° Northern to 40° Southern latitude.
More than 100 countries grow tobacco. China grows the most, then the USA, Brazil, India, Zimbabwe and Turkey. Tobacco thrives in poorer soils, providing farmers with an alternative crop. In many cases, it provides a higher income than any other smallholder crops. It integrates well into environmentally friendly crop rotations, benefiting subsequent crops like maize.

Type of Tobacco

Virginia tobacco is named after the US state Virginia where it was first cultivated. It is also called "bright tobacco" because of its yellow to orange colour, achieved during the flue-cure. This type grows particularly well in subtropical regions with light rainfall, such as Georgia (USA), southern Brazil and Zimbabwe. In Indonesia, this type of tobacco is mainly produced in the Lombok islands.

Burley tobacco turns brown after being air-cured with virtually no sugar, giving it a strong and almost cigar-like taste. It needs heavier soils and more fertilisers than the Virginia type of tobacco.

Oriental is the smallest and hardiest type, grown in hot climates such as Indonesia. These conditions and a high planting density create an aromatic flavour, which is enhanced by sun-curing, as in most traditional Javanese kretek or clove cigarettes.

Tobacco Growth

The seeds of tobacco look similar to powdery instant coffee in which there are around 12,000 tobacco seeds in a gram. The seeds are so small that they must be nurtured in specially protected seedbeds for 60 days before transplanting to the field. After a couple of weeks, soil is banked up around the seedlings for protection and to let them develop a good root system. Two months later, the flowers and some of the upper leaves are ‘topped’ to concentrate growth in the remaining leaves, like ‘pinching out’ tomatoes. As the plants grow, the farmer provides appropriate nutrition and watches out for pests.

In Indonesia, tobacco plant growth in several places in Kedu, Kediri and north Shore of Java Island in Semarang and Surabaya, but excellent harvest of high quality tobacco from Kelaten, Jember and Besuki. 

Tobacco Harvesting

Tobacco Harvest

A tobacco farmer will typically harvest the crop by hand over two to four months, taking off two to four leaves per plant as they ripen. A typical farmer, with approximately two hectares of land, will harvest about 15,000 plants of 22 leaves each.

There are two ways to harvest tobacco. The oldest known method in use is simply cutting off the stalk at the ground using a curved knife. And the other way to harvest the tobacco plant by pulling individual leaves off the stalk as they ripened, tobacco leaves ripen from the ground upward, so tobacco plant may be pulled several different times before the tobacco plant is entirely harvested. This is also known as "Cropping" or "Priming". These are terms used for pulling leaves off tobacco. The first crop at the very bottom of the stalks are called "sand lugs" as they are often against the ground and are coated with dirt splashed up when it rains.

Tobacco Curing

Process of Curing

Curing is a carefully controlled process used to achieve the texture, colour and overall quality of a specific tobacco type. During the cure, leaf starch is converted into sugar, and the tobacco changes colour from green to lemon, to yellow, then from orange to brown.

There are four methods; Air-Curing: Air cured tobacco, such as Burley, is hung in unheated, ventilated barns to dry naturally until the leaf reaches a light to medium brown color. At this point, there are virtually no sugars left in the leaf.

Flue-Curing: Heat is introduced into a barn via pipes from an exterior furnace, which acts like a radiator that is connected to the central heating system. This controlled heat allows the leaves to turn yellow/orange, at which point they are fixed, containing a high amount of sugar. Virginia tobacco is flue-cured.

Sun-Curing: Leaves are strung out on racks and exposed to the sun for 12 to 30 days. The sun's direct heat fixes the leaves at a yellow to orange colour with a high sugar content. Oriental is the most prominent of the sun cured tobaccos and is the most common curing process for our tobacco.

Fire-Curing: Fire-curing follows the same principle as producing smoked beef. Brushwood is burned under the leaves, drying the tobacco and producing a smoky fragrance. This type is mainly used in some pipe or roll-your-own tobaccos. After curing, the farmer grades the leaves into different leaf positions, qualities and colours, packs them into 30-50kg ‘farmer bales’ and takes them to a buying centre or auction for sale.

Tobacco Leaf Processing

After curing, the leaf is processed through a Green Leaf Threshing Plant. During threshing, the lamina is separated from the stem and subjected to a series of quality checks to ensure all sand, dust, scraps and foreign matter are removed. During processing, the moisture in the tobacco is brought down.

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