Taking Care in Reaping the Golden Leaf

Zimbabwean tobacco is regarded as having one of the best smoking and flavour qualities hence it is well sought-after by major tobacco markets thereby making us the third biggest exporter in the world and the largest producer of tobacco in Africa.

For us to maintain this position and continue producing good leaf, it is prudent that the delicate crop is treated methodically at each production stage of which the reaping stage is no exception and must not be overlooked. 

Harvesting and curing is in progress in all tobacco growing regions hence it is prudent to look at how farmers can avert losses that can occur due to poor handling and harvesting immature or overripe tobacco.

Whilst tobacco may appear well grown on the land, if it is not harvested at the optimum degree of ripeness, an array of challenges arise.

When tobacco is overripe when it is reaped, it neither colours well nor yields, as would tobacco harvested and cured at proper maturation,consequently fetching poor prices.

On the other hand, tobacco that is harvested when it is still green and not yet ripe, results in pale, harsh textured leaf with incorrect chemical balance in the cured leaf.

Tobacco leaves reach full maturity a few days before ripening and when the crop is allowed to mature in the field it produces the best quality.

As a result, a farmer needs to know how a leaf that would have reached full maturity looks like in order for it to come out of the curing process with the quality, colour, weight and aroma the merchants are after.

Mature leaf changes in colour from the normal green to yellowish, accumulates gummy substances in them, thickens as more starch accumulates in the leaf as well as becomes more brittle as nitrogen and chlorophyll content decreases in the leaf.

When cured, it is soft to touch and orange to yellow in colour.

Mature leaf exhibits a slight yellowing on the stem and edges, has wrinkles or folds between veins and break off the stalk easier than immature leaves.

Noteworthy is that harvesting based only on the aforementioned visible signs may be erroneous as severely leached tobacco often exhibits false ripening and when this leaf is cured it results in sponge and green leaves.

For an indication of relative ripeness when in doubt, reap six or eight extra leaves from a typical plant, tie them in pairs in sequence and hang them in a visible place in the barn.

They represent the next three or four reapings, and their colouring times and final quality will give a good idea of how ripe you are reaping.

The rate at which the tobacco crop ripens depends on the climatic zone in which it is grown and the prevailing weather conditions.

However, as a general rule, the crop will ripen at a rate of about two leaves per week hence tobacco leaves are harvested progressively up the stem and two at a time from a plant.

Nonetheless, prevailing weather conditions or disease can cause the crop to ripen more slowly or more quickly than the average hence farmers need to adjust accordingly.

The tobacco leaf stages for maturity are: premature, mature, ripe, and overripe and as a result, the tobacco farmer should remove from the stalk fully ripe leaves as they cure more easily and optimum quality can be achieved.

During harvesting, reapers must understand the type of leaf they are out to harvest as the uniformity of the leaf in terms of ripeness and stalk position (primings, cutters, lugs, leaf and tips) is important.

A good crop maybe wrecked during the harvesting if the delicate crop is mishandled and the incurred damage may reduce the value of the tobacco crop hence the harvesting operation of the tobacco crop from the field right up to the grading table should be carefully organised to minimize handling as this tends to damage the tobacco leaf.

Clippers are also useful in reducing contact with the leaf thereby minimising bruises to the leaf.

The harvested leaf should not be exposed to the sun in the field as this affects the quality of the leaf.

It is the farmers’ role to ensure that their crop attains top grades hence they must follow the correct method in curing and baling to preserve quality of the leaf and guarantee favourable prices at the auction floors.

Posted in News on Apr 20, 2017