Tobacco Growing In Victoria
Tobacco normally flowers during January and February. To maximise leaf production and encourage leaf ripening, it is necessary to remove the flower. This is known as "topping". Removing the flower switches the plant from a seed producing (reproductive) to a leaf producing (vegetative) phase. Ideally the flower should be removed while it is still in bud. Topping increases the size and weight of leaves, increasing the overall yield per hectare. The number of leaves which are left on the plant are determined at this time, normally 18-22 leaves per plant.
New shoots rapidly appear after topping. These are known as "suckers". Suckers are controlled by manually breaking them off and through the application of "suckercides". Suckercides have a two-fold action of killing the sucker buds and inhibiting subsequent sucker development.
After planting, the crop does not require much water for the first 4-6 weeks as it is small. The crop is usually water stressed during this time to
encourage it to develop a large root system. After this time the crop grows rapidly and it is important that water is not lacking. The crop's irrigation requirement depends on the seasonal conditions and soil type. After topping, harvesting begins and the irrigation requirement of the crop is reduced due to its leaf area being reduced as leaves are harvested and environmental conditions becoming cooler. Irrigation systems in Victoria vary from fixed sprays to mobile irrigation systems such as travelling irrigators.
There are a number of different styles or leaf positions on a tobacco plant (see Figure 2). These leaf positions include lugs, cutters, subleaf, leaf and tips. These leaf positions are classified by the shape and size of the leaf and the stem as well as chemical attributes.
Tips are the short, narrow leaves from the top of the plant. These leaves often have a higher nicotine content than other leaf positions.
Leaf occurs near the top of the plant and is long and wide with a large stem. Leaf is the thickest of all leaf positions and has a moderate nicotine content.
Subleaf is the plant position above lugs and cutters. It is longer and narrower than both lugs and cutters, but similar in thickness.
Cutters are the leaves above lugs and are normally wider than they are long. They are thin with a narrow stem.
Lugs are the lowest leaves on the plant and are short wide leaves, which are typically thin and papery with low nicotine content.
Tobacco is picked when leaves are 'ripe'. Leaves ripen progressively from the bottom of the plant to the top, so lugs are picked first and tips picked last. Typically tobacco is picked six times, with three leaves taken per pick and six leaves in the final pick. Picking commences in February and finishes in late April to early May depending on the seasonal conditions.
Picking is done using a "taxi-harvester". Four to six people ride on the harvester and pick the leaves by hand. Leaves are picked with the tips of the leaves all facing the same direction. These leaves are either put into hessian bags on the machine and transported to the kilns, or placed in racks on top of the machine and transported to the kiln. Labour for
picking relies on casual and itinerant workers.
After tobacco is fully harvested, there are a number of operations which still need to occur. Tobacco stalks are ploughed in to help reduce the carryover of diseases as part of an integrated pest management program. Winter cover crops are often sown to prevent erosion from flooding as well as improving soil structure. Cover crops recommended in Victoria are oats or ryegrass.
Please note: This publication is intended as general information only. The growing of tobacco in Australia is now regulated by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Permission for commercial or private cultivation or manufacture of tobacco should be sourced from Bob Harkins, Compliance Team Manager, (02) 9374 8501.
The advice provided is intended as a source of information only. The TCV and its officers do not guarantee that the advice is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence, which may arise from you relying on this advice.