Nonetheless, Cuba looks to have a generous and rich crop of tobacco this year, if the weather holds out. The harvest was almost a month late due to extremely wet weather caused by hurricanes in October and November. Most of the tobacco seedbeds in the key growing regions of the Vuelta Abajo were swept away in floods. The tobacco growers had to pick much later. And the weather in March had been dry, sunny and hot -- perfect for ripening tobacco leaves. The growers expect to harvest lots of strong tobacco this year, which will help to buttress blends.
Growers such as Alejandro Robaina, whom I visited during my quick trip to the tobacco region, expected to have an exceptional harvest. He had already picked almost his entire crop. "It looks to be excellent," said the 87-year-old legend. "My family and I are very excited."
The only concern with tobacco specialists in the region is that the two varieties are sensitive to a fungus called black shank, a disease that affects the roots of the tobacco plant and inhibits its growth. It is a widespread problem not only in Cuba but also in other tobacco-growing regions in the world. Last year, about half the Cuban crop was of Habanos 2000 seed and growers had a terrible time, said one employee from a tobacco institute in the Pinar del Río region. This year, that type of tobacco is not being used.
The tobacco technician let it slip out that Cuba has just developed a new variety of leaf that it was very excited about. It's called Criollo 2006. "It's a vigorous tobacco that is both resistant to blue mold and black shank," he said, adding that the plant grows very tall, producing 24 leaves per plant, instead of the normal 16 or so with more popular varieties.
When Robaina heard this, he looked rather skeptical. "It doesn't sound right to me," he said. "Vamos a ver (we will see)."
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