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Unexpected Rains Hit Cuban Tobacco Harvest

Interesting news reported through Reuters on January 28th regarding the current state of Cuba's tobacco crops, which have been undergone damage quite concerning to the nation's cigar makers. Note that untimely rains that adversely affected Cuban tobacco harvests were also reported back in March 2014.

After unusual weather, Cuba struggles to save prized tobacco crop

Highly unusual weather has damaged Cuba's tobacco crop, raising concerns among farmers and cigar-lovers that the island's supply of its famous cigars might suffer at a time of increased demand resulting from detente with the United States.

A worker harvests tobacco leaves on a farm in San Juan y Martínez, in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río,

in a season unsettled by abnormally heavy rainfall.

The weather phenomena El Niño led to Cuba's worst drought in a century in 2015, followed by heavy rain during the northern winter, which is normally a dry period in Cuba.

While all Cuban crops have suffered, delicate tobacco plants are especially vulnerable. Rains have wiped out production at some plantations and severely damaged others. In response, tobacco farmers are replanting now, out of season, in hopes of salvaging the 2015-2016 harvest.

In western Pinar del Rio province, where most of Cuba's tobacco is grown, farmers are slogging through rain and mud to replant destroyed crops. The best Cuban tobacco is cultivated from late October into early January and then harvested into March.

One farmer claims, "This has been a disaster, not just for us, but everyone. We are trying to see if we can still have a harvest." As another picked damaged leaves from tobacco plants, he stated "I have been growing tobacco since I was born and this is the worst harvest in my experience. Look at those stains and rot on the leaves. The quality is bad so we will earn much less."

The impact on cigar supply has yet to be determined, as tobacco normally requires at least two or three years of curing, fermenting and ageing. Farmers and cigar experts say there have been several weak harvests in recent years, inconveniently occurring just as tourism in Cuba is booming.

The cigar monopoly Habanos S.A., a joint venture between the Cuban state and Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, has adequate stock to manage a dip in supply, said Carlos Ferran, an executive who was surveying western farms. Other Habanos officials referred questions to holding company Tabacuba, which did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

In the short-term, meteorologists forecast more soggy weather in February and March. An outlier, the Robaina plantation has been largely unaffected by the weather due to its elevated ground and resistant seeds. Pedro Jesus Alonso, western regional director of the Agriculture Ministry's export company CATEC, insisted others could also save the harvest, stating that "Everything depends on a little improvement in the weather,. If it does not rain too much the harvest can get back on track."

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