Rains in Cuba Cause Problems for Harvested Tobacco

Rains in Cuba Cause Problems for Harvested Tobacco
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
An image released by the Cuban News Agency shows a river in the Sancti Spíritus province overflowing due to heavy rains.

An extraordinarily wet and humid May has damaged Cuba’s premium tobacco crop, nearly all of which was curing in barns. Two well-known growers, Hirochi Robaina and Hector Luis Prieto, say they managed to escape severe problems with their crops, but that the damage to smaller growing and curing operations has been extensive.

“It’s a disaster,” says Robaina. “We are fortunate because we have concrete floors in our tobacco barns, so we were able to control the humidity and keep the tobacco safe.” But, according to Robaina, the excessive and unrelenting humidity caused mold to form in many tobacco barns of other growers that he knows. He says the rains began the first week of May and did not let up until this week.

Hector Luis Prieto was also able to preserve all of his tobacco because he was able to control the humidity inside the barns. He says that there was some flooding near his fields—a river runs right through his property—but because there was no tobacco in them, he was not concerned about any long-term effects. His harvest ended in late-February and early-March.

Both growers agree that the quality of the 2017–2018 crop is outstanding, but Robaina says it isn’t clear how much of the overall tobacco production will survive the extended humidity. Both Robaina and Prieto have farms in the Vuelta Abajo region near San Juan y Martínez and San Luis. That area, about 20 miles west of the city of Pinar del Río, is known as the finest tobacco growing region in Cuba.

Habanos S.A. says it is too early to comment about any damage to cigar tobacco. It is waiting for a report from Tabacuba, the government entity that oversees tobacco production. Habanos did not speculate about when they might have specific information about the extent of the damage.
Cuba has suffered through a number of years of mediocre crops, especially in 2013–2014, 2014–2015 and 2015–2016, but the crops from the last two years are considered to have been of higher quality and quantity. There are some reports that the 2016 wrapper crop, which was initially judged to be big and excellent, developed green spots during the curing process. That report has not been confirmed. Any damage to this year’s crop could be a serious setback to Cuba’s cigar-production plans.

Robaina added that the recent sub-tropical storm Alberto caused more serious problems in Sancti Spiritus and Cabaiguan, an area in the central region of Cuba that produces lesser quality cigar tobacco and cigarette tobacco. Tobacco there, including some that was still in the field, has been virtually wiped out, according to Robaina. News reports from that region showed severe flooding and evacuations from populated areas during the storm.

Robaina says that the damage he has seen (or heard about) was the result of rain and humidity, not wind.