Minor Plant Virus Hits Dominican Tobacco Fields

An unusually dry growing season in the Dominican Republic resulted in a minor outbreak of the tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV), a disease that causes tobacco plants to stop growing and die before maturity.

Some tobacco varietals and growing areas were affected worse than others. Cigar Insider visited the Dominican Republic and spoke with some of the key people involved in the country's premium cigar industry to assess the problem.

"The virus has traditionally affected tomato and pepper crops," said Hendrik "Henke" Kelner, general operations manager of Davidoff. "In this last harvest, the tobacco zones close to the [northern] mountain range have been the most affected. This is for two reasons. Firstly, the harsh drought. Rain is a repellent of this virus. Secondly, these are the areas which grow tobacco types more susceptible to the virus—Olor and San Vicente. There was also contamination from nearby fields that grow tomatoes and pepper and other crops in the solanaceae family."

According to Kelner, areas that grow the Piloto Cubano varietal of tobacco were less affected, as Pilto resists the virus.

Other affected tobacco areas like Mao and Villa Gonzalez were also in close proximity to tomato, eggplant and chili pepper plantations.

"The virus usually affects Olor and burley," said José "Jochi" Blanco, tobacco grower and owner of Tabacalera La Palma.

"If any La Palma fields were hurt, it was less than 5 percent," assured Blanco. "It started at the very beginning of the crop season before the plants were even transferred to the fields. When the attack was noticed in the farms, a lot of people didn't know what was going on. Too many people treated this virus like a bacteria and they had problems. In my case, we treated it like a virus and didn't have a lot of damage."

For much more on this story, see the current issue of Cigar Insider.