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Family Matters—The Perez Tobacco Growers

For the Perez family of Miami's A.S.P. Enterprises Inc., tobacco growing is more than just a career—it's in the genes.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98

(continued from page 3)

The tobacco farms that A.S.P. owns or finances are located primarily in Mexico and Ecuador. The 5,000 acres in Mexico annually yield more than 400,000 pounds of Sumatra-seed wrapper and more than 4 million pounds of black tobacco, while the 4,000 acres in Ecuador, 1,200 of which are used for growing each year, yield more than 1 million pounds of Connecticut-seed wrapper and 100,000 pounds of Sumatra-seed wrapper, which is grown on special order. In Nicaragua, 500 acres yield more than 500,000 pounds of Cuban-seed filler and binder.

Meeting their customers' needs has not been easy for the Perezes over the past year, thanks partly to El Niño. Blue mold has been present for years, says Alfredo. But we have learned to minimize the blue mold by moving the seasons of planting to times of the year when the weather conditions are a little bit drier. In Mexico, for example, it's a problem, so we now plant a little bit earlier than normal, so the tobacco can grow when it is not so cold and wet. What also helps is to have long periods of time without the tobacco [growing in the land]. This avoids the continuous [spreading] of blue mold.

Such was the case in Nicaragua, says Alfredo, until the military takeover of land there. I would say we had as good an operation in Nicaragua as we have in Ecuador. But because of blue mold--which spread rapidly after the Perezes lost control of the farm there--we could not grow wrapper. Every time I go there, I think to myself, 'My God! What are we doing growing filler there? This is like a high-class wrapper operation, but we are growing filler and binder there.

Meanwhile, A.S.P. continues to stress the need for harvesting and selling high-quality tobacco that is at the peak of its flavor. We emphasize that tobacco takes its time to be ready, says Alfredo. We cannot do it any faster. Some customers have had to slow down their production in order to have everything done [in the proper time]. We like to ferment the tobacco in the traditional way, with it packed into bulks and turned from the front to the middle to the outside. We can turn it seven or eight times before the tobacco is fully fermented, and the process takes a total of 60 to 120 days.

Asked about plans for the future, Alfredo cites seed technology (We take no shortcuts) and the maintenance of his top-flight operation in Ecuador (It's not for me or for my children; it's for my grandchildren). But he insists that his goal for the coming years is to maintain a sense of consistency that is as unwavering as the genes that get handed down from one generation of Perezes to the next. We continue supplying the same customers and maintain traditions, he points out. We have not changed over the years, and you cannot say much more than that. We keep doing things the same way.

If you want to work in the fields with the tobacco, you have to love it, Silvio says. You need to put all your attention on the tobacco. Looking at those leaves, it makes me happy.

Michael Kaplan is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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