Agricultural Process

Where Is Tobacco Grown

Tobacco is grown in 12 EU countries. The main producers are Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain and Poland, which account for around 85% of the EU tobacco growing area. There is a trend towards smaller growing areas, mainly due to falling consumption of tobacco products.

The EU produces some 200,000 tonnes of dried tobacco leaves a year. Yields vary between 1 and 3 tonnes a hectare, depending on the variety. "Flue-cured" Virginia varieties account for almost 50% of output, "light-air-cured" Burley varieties around 15%, "sun-cured" or oriental almost 35% and other varieties ("dark-air-cured" and "fire-cured") less than 3%.

The EU produces less than 3% of global yearly raw tobacco production, and imports some 400,000 tonnes a year, mainly from Africa and America. It exports around 100,000 tonnes a year. World raw tobacco supply matches demand, with average market prices more or less stable since 2009.

Sowing the Seeds

In the first stage of the growing process, tobacco seeds are sown in specially constructed seedbeds. At the same time, farmers carefully prepare the soil in their fields. After two months in the beds, the seeds have grown into plants approximately 15-20 centimeters high and are ready to be transplanted to the field. The plants grow in the field for a further two to three months. Throughout the growing process, the plants are cultivated to maximize yield and quality, the soil is tended regularly, and care is taken to protect the plants from pests and disease.


Harvesting is the next stage of the process. Harvesting is either done leaf by leaf in the case of Virginia and oriental tobaccos, or by the whole plant, in the case of burley. Harvesting has to take place when the leaves are mature (or ripe) and in prime condition for the next stage, the curing process.

Curing Tobacco Leaf

Through curing, the moisture content in the tobacco leaf is reduced from 80% to about 20%, thus ensuring the tobacco's preservability. Further, the different methods of curing also enhance the leaf's natural aroma. As different tobacco products require leaves with different characteristics, the distinctive flavour of each type of tobacco is what determines its suitability for use in different tobacco products.

In curing barns leaves will be dehydrated over a period of time. After the curing process is completed and the leaf has dried out sufficiently, fresh air is released into the curing barn, slightly moistening the leaves as to allow them to be transported for sale without crumbling.

There are four curing methods used for curing tobacco grown for commercial purposes: Flue-curing, fire-curing, air-curing and sun-curing.

Flue-Cured Tobacco

The most common curing process is known as flue-curing. Used mainly in the manufacture of cigarettes, the most common type of flue-cured tobacco is Virginia . This tobacco is also known as 'bright tobacco' because the heat-drying process gives the leaves a bright, golden colour. Originally from the south-eastern U.S. state of the same name, it is today the most grown tobacco variety in the world. Flue-cured tobacco is dried in a closed building with furnace driven heat directed from flues or pipes that extend from a furnace into the barn. The temperature of the furnace is gradually raised until the leaves and stems are completely dried. Flue-curing takes about a week and fixes the natural sugar of the leaf, which has a high sugar and a medium-to-high nicotine content.

Today, many farmers find that bulk curing flue-cured tobacco is far more cost-effective. Racks of tobacco are placed in bulk barns where heat and ventilation are controlled while air is forced through the leaves. Flue-cured varieties require warm weather, humidity, light rainfall and a sandy, loam soil for their four-month growing season.

Air-Cured Tobacco

Some tobacco leaves are air-cured following their harvest. Air-cured tobacco is traditionally cured hanging in structures with a roof, but with open sides to allow air to freely circulate. As with flue-curing, the aim of air-curing is the timely removal of moisture from tobacco leaves. This process takes four to eight weeks: If cured too fast, the leaf will become patchy, if cured too slowly, the leaf will rot away.
Commonly, air-cured tobacco is subdivided into dark air-cured and light air-cured tobacco. Burley is the second most popular tobacco in the world, belonging to the light air-cured variety. Burley, also known as White Burley tobacco, is primarily used to make cigarettes and aromatic blends, whereas dark air-cured tobaccos are mainly used in the production of chewing tobacco and snuff.

Burley is a slightly smaller plant than the flue-cured Virginia type, but with similarly broad leaves. Once picked, its leaves are dried naturally – or ‘air-cured' – without the use of extra heat. This gives the leaves a light brown to mahogany appearance and very low sugar content. Burley tobaccos are somewhat cigar-like in taste and appearance, lending themselves to the production of flavoured, blended cigarettes commonly referred to as "American". Burley tobacco can be grown in limestone soils and requires only light fertiliser.

Fire-Cured Tobacco

Although curing methods may vary, all fire-cured tobaccos are subjected to wood smoke to dry the leaves. It is the type of wood used to smoke the tobacco leaves and the amount of smoke exposure that gives fire-cured tobacco leaves their distinctive flavours.
Fire-cured tobacco, generally darker in colour, is used mostly for pipe tobacco mixtures, snuff, and chewing tobacco and has a low sugar but high nicotine content. Fire curing uses an enclosed barn similar to that used for flue-curing. Small fires are built on the floor, and the leaves cure in a smoke-laden atmosphere. Whereas flue-curing takes about a week, fire curing, using far lower temperatures, may take from a few days up to 4 weeks.

Fire-cured tobacco is dried with low-burning wood fires on the floors of closed curing barns. The leaves have low sugar content but high nicotine content. Fire-cured tobacco is a robust variety of tobacco used as a condimental for pipe blends, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, snuff and strong-tasting cigars.

Sun-Cured Tobacco

A comparatively small amount of tobacco is sun-cured. Leaves are exposed to the sun to remove most of their moisture before being air-cured to complete the process. Of all sun-cured tobaccos, the best known are the so-called Oriental tobaccos of Turkey , Greece , in the area where before used to be yoguslavia, and Balkans. A more labour-intensive product to harvest, Oriental tobacco is characterised by high aroma from small leaves, being low in both sugar and nicotine.
The leaves are mostly sun-cured. Usually, the larger the leaf, the milder the aroma. Hence Oriental tobacco is regarded as expensive to harvest by many tobacco manufactures. Oriental tobaccos are often grown in poorer soils in southern Europe and the Middle East.Whereas after other curing processes tobacco is exposed to air to standardise the moisture content of the tobacco or 'redry', Oriental tobaccos are stored in bales and allowed to ferment. After storage, moisture is added to this type of tobacco. Pure – Turkish cigarettes contain 100% unblended Oriental tobacco – or blended, Oriental tobacco is mostly used in cigarettes, cigars, pipe, snuff or chewing tobacco.


Once the leaves are cured, the farmer sorts them according to their quality and stalk position. The leaves are then packed into bales ready to be shipped.

Removal Of The Stem

After curing, raw unprocessed tobacco leaf has its stem removed either by hand stripping the main stem from the centre of the leaf or by threshing in a machine. Some raw tobacco leaf is processed through a green leaf threshing plant. During threshing, the lamina is separated from the stem and subjected to a series of quality checks to ensure all sand, dust, scraps and foreign matter are removed. During processing, the moisture in the tobacco is brought down to a safe ‘keeping’ level and the processed tobacco is packed into 200kg cardboard boxes for shipping.

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