According to folk traditions the sowing of tobacco seeds starts around Sándor and József name days. Bare tobacco seeds can be sown directly into the foil tent’s soil if it has the right temperature and humidity, or can be sown in pilled form seed by seed into compost-filled polystyrol trays. Pilling is the process of enveloping the bare seed with germination enhancing nutriment and protection, which increases the size of the tiny seed, so that it can be sown seed by seed by machines too.
The precondition of successful tobacco growing is to produce the right quality plants. Today the so-called “flooded” plant growing is the best solution concerning tobacco plants. In order to fill up the floating trays’ cells peat-based plant growing soil mix is used.
We grow plants in Szelevény and Ásotthalom in 33 foil tents on ca 1.2 acres total, from where we transplant almost ten million plants annually.
The trimming of plants is an indispensable part of the technology. Its main advantages are that it speeds up the formation of root, strengthens the stem, gives living space to weaker plants, the evaporating surface is reduced and the transplant can be delayed by additional trimming.
The first trays are placed onto water in March. In the first phase of growing enhanced plant protection may be necessary, if the weather is too cold. The transplant is to be expected from the first week of May. It must be timed according to the harvest and must be finished by the end of May the latest. For transplanting the trimmed, strong-stemmed, thick-rooted plants are suitable, the length of which in case of automatic transplanting is at least 15-18 centimetres.
This is one of the most important work phases of tobacco growing, since this creates the base for even and well-settled plantations. Transplant is to be started when the area is well-prepared and the temperature of the soil is 14-16˚C. This usually happens in the first week of May. These days bed-out is usually carried out by machines, although on smaller plots it may happen by hand. It is advisable to implement it either early in the morning or late in the evening, since these are the times of day when the chance of plants dying out is the slimmest. The suggested amount of plants to plant in one hectare is between 22.000 and 24.000, depending on the type of tobacco and technology.
By the middle or end of July most farmers will have finished the first hoeing, carried out the the first plant protection works on the fields, thus irrigation can start on areas marked out for this purpose.
After the transplant the next phase on the fields is the nursing of the plants. This includes hoeing, topping – removal of tobacco flowers, suckering – pruning out of leaves that are otherwise unproductive, plant protection and irrigation, all of which influence the quantity of developing leaves and the quality of leaf texture, if they are done professionally and in time.
Repeated automatic spacing cultivation and manual hoeing, plus weed control loosen the soil up and maintain the optimal proportion of water and air in the soil. In the case of farming on flatland this is mostly accompanied by filling up the rows, which helps prevent the leaning of plants in case of wind blow.
A special work phase of growing tobacco is the topping – if we miss it, the quantity of crop decreases substantially and the quality of leaf texture will be weaker. The pruning out of leaves that are otherwise unproductive is equally important after topping. Both procedures ensure that as much of the plant’s energy as possible focuses on producing the large leaves that are harvested and sold.
During the harvest the tobacco leaves must be picked in the order of their development and according to their picking zones. First the sand leaves ripe in the lower picking zone, then the lower and upper leaves in the middle, finally the top leaves do.
Harvesting tobacco is mainly done manually in Hungary. Picking by hand is one of the most work-consuming phases of growing tobacco. Therefore, in many high-labor-cost countries in the world and also in Europe automation is gradually taking place instead.
A most important element of tobacco-growing technology is the drying of tobacco. Its aim is to create the quality suitable for the tobacco’s type and the demands of the consumers, as well as to ensure the storage until processing, without any damage in the quality.
The drying of the two types of tobacco grown in Hungary is fundamentally different. Virginia tobacco is dried artificially in drying chambers, whereas Burley tobacco is dried naturally. There are significant differences between temperature, humidity and the length of drying in these two processes.
In Burley’s case two drying technologies are used by farmers, traditional stringing or full-plant drying.
During this traditional technology picked leaves are strung, plaited or sewn on cords, then hung on the beams of the stables designated for drying.
In the case of full-plant drying the whole plant is hung on special drying wooden structures, sometimes in foil tents.
Harvesting usually finishes in September or October, depending on the size of the farms and the work capacity.
The selection, preparation for selling and purchasing all happen in accordance with the strict regulations of DOFER Tobacco Processor. The selected tobacco cannot contain sucker leaves or foreign material. In the farms this time-consuming work phase is accelerated by picking conveyor belts. In order to avoid any deterioration in quality, the baled tobacco is stored in dry and protected places.
The purchase of quality-based baled tobacco starts with buying the Virginia tobaccos first. This usually starts in the first week of September and finishes at the beginning of November. This is followed by the reception of Burley tobaccos, which may last until February the following year, since the preparation and purchase of this type of tobacco are greatly influenced by the weather in autumn and winter.
At DOFER Tobacco Processor tobacco is separated until processing according to its type, quality class and the amount of nicotine it contains, thus ensuring the homogenous quality of fermented tobacco.
The amount of nicotine must be specified for plants which are transported to the fermenting factory in Szolnok before the reception, so as to be able to prepare their processing. Thus, samples are taken from each bale at the receiving stations. The necessary inner inspection is carried out in Szolnok by modern, high-tech instruments. Tobacco may only be transported for fermentation from the reception spots if these results are known.
Why are all of these things necessary? Because of safety reasons. Bales with the correct data can immediately be identified at the central processing units. Hence bales are separated according to nicotine amount and quality classes. The computer identifies the stock according to quality classes, including nicotine class, which enables the mixing for a given nicotine content during producing.