SALAYSAY: Embracing the New Technologies in Tobacco Farming

Tobacco leaves produced by the farmers of San Juan, Ilocos Sur are of good quality that traders and cigarette manufacturing companies vie with one another to buy them even at a higher price.

According to Jose Taclas, Tobacco Production and Regulation Officer III of the National Tobacco Administration based in this town, the tobacco leaves produced here in the 1980s were inferior as compared with those produced by other provinces because the farmers here used the conventional method of planting this major crop which is the main source of revenue for this flourishing town.

The National Tobacco Administration then introduced in 1989 the tobacco contract growing scheme which enjoined the farmers to use new technologies to improve the quality of their produce. At first, the farmers were reluctant to adopt this new technology which employed proper application of fertilizer, observance of the proper distance of plants and curing of the leaves. But with the assistance of the agency’s technicians, the farmers slowly accepted the technology which greatly helped them produce quality tobacco leaves.

Taclas explained that under the tobacco contract growing scheme, private companies, farmers and the NTA enter into a memorandum of agreement wherein the companies (or in collaboration with NTA at a 50-50 scheme) gave financial assistance to the farmers and NTA provided the technical assistance to ensure that the farmers produced good quality tobacco leaves. Under contract growing, the farmers were assured of financing, technical assistance and a ready market for their produce.

The NTA also launched another technology – the topped tobacco – wherein the flower of the tobacco plant was cut leaving only 12-14 leaves per plant. This drew a strong resistance from the local farmers as they believed this would decrease the volume of their production. It was only after they saw that the 15- hectare tobacco demo farm in Barangay Barbar had generated a higher quality production – and income – that they fully accepted this new technology.

Another technology which is now widely embraced by the farmers of San Juan is the early planting scheme. Under this scheme, farmers sow the tobacco seeds by October 1 and replant the seedlings by November 16 or November 30 at the latest. The early planting scheme was encouraged as the soil is still moist after rice harvest. By the middle of March, the farmers would harvest the tobacco leaves for curing. It is observed that tobacco leaves harvested at this time are of better quality.

Marino de los Santos, a 73-year-old farmer from Barangay Barbar is one of the many farmers who benefitted from these technologies.

“I was able to buy a piece of land and tractor and gave my family a decent living with the profits I made in strictly following the new technologies introduced by NTA,” Mang Maring declared.

Now a semi-retired farmer, Mang Maring had been a recipient of several awards as Tobacco Grower of the Year (1990-91, 1996-97, and 1997-98). He was also adjudged as first runner-up in the 1996-1997 tobacco national level competition.

His greatest contribution to the tobacco industry is the “Anawang type” curing barn. The incinerator is dugged deeper than the conventional type, thus heat is maintained longer resulting in the decrease of firewood used and making his work a lot easier.

His “Anawang type” curing barn is now widely used in the flue-curing barns set up in San Juan and some parts of Cabugao and Sinait.#