Hurricane Eta and the cigar industry
Hurricane Eta and the cigar industry. Last week, a level 4 Hurricane with the name Eta was heading for Nicaragua and Honduras. Tobacco growers worried. The heavy rainfall that comes with these forces of nature can devastate crops. The combination of rainfall and the extremely slow movement of Eta was cause for extra worries. But the tobacco industry breathes a sigh of relief. The damage done isn’t nearly as what it could have been. But not all news is good news, there is some damage. But nothing compares to the lives lost. At least 2 deaths in Nicaragua, 57 in Honduras, and more than 50 in Guatemala. Mexico reports more than 20 casualties, and many people all over Central America are missing
Last week, Hurricane Eta made landfall on the east coast of Nicaragua. The hurricane was at level 4 at that time, but the strength decreased. The hurricane became a tropical storm as it was over land. It decreased even further to a tropical depressing when it hit Honduras. And that saved much of the cigar industry.
It’s quite early in the growing season. Honduras is a little ahead of Nicaragua, but even in Honduras, not all farms were full of young plants. The rain, which was constant but not too much, didn’t cause much damage. According to Nestor Andres Plasencia, the damage is less than 4% of the plants in the fields. 75% of the damage is at the family’s fields in Honduras, the rest is damage in Nicaragua.
In Honduras, the first seedlings were transferred from the greenhouse to the Plasencia farms in early august. In Nicaragua, that takes place mid-October. Yet, Plasencia and many other companies put that on pause when the first warnings about Hurricane Eta came.
Reports from Nicaragua say that the damage is minimal. Oliva cigar Company says that the farms in Jalapa had more rain and wind. But there is hardly any damage. Not all fields have plants, and the fields that have young tobacco plants are the ones with better drainage and topography. The company doesn’t have plants on its farms in Esteli yet. The soil in Condega retains more water, and the damage at the Oliva farms in Condega is yet to be seen.
Aganorsa says that the tobacco industry is dodging the bullet. The predictions were devastating, yet the amount of damage is very little. There is no damage and no long-term impact on Aganorsa’s operation. In the short term, there are some challenges with rain impacting planting. The rich, volcanic soil near Estelí needs to dry first before growers can plant again. This is shortening the season. Eduardo Fernandez says “the same goes for Jamastran in Honduras, that soil needs to dry before we can continue to plant”.
Christian Eiroa from CLE cigars shares that the storm didn’t hit the tobacco fields directly. He says that the drying of the soil will cause a delay in transferring plants for up to two weeks. Altadis reports little to no damage to any of its facilities or tobacco. But Joel Alvarenga, operations manager at Altadis’ Flor de Copán factory in Honduras says that this luck isn’t for everyone. “The country, especially on the north coast and the area near San Pedro Sula, has been seriously affected by the floods caused by the Ulúa and Chamelecón Rivers. There are thousands of victims and they are going through a very critical situation since they have lost their homes and all their material assets. It is shocking to see all the areas that were affected and where our compatriots have lost everything,” he says in a statement to Cigar Aficionado.
The tropical storm became a hurricane again and went to visit Cuba. Cuba evacuated 25.000 people from coastal areas and there are no reports of casualties nor damage to tobacco plantations. Instead of following the trajectory course to South Florida, Eta changes its course over the Gulf of Mexico and is heading for Northern Florida instead. That means it won’t head for the Florida Sun Grown plantations in Clermont, Florida.
photo credit header photo: Democracy now
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