In Nicaragua, the Oliva Tobacco Company is trying out a different irrigation system that could be a game changer. Using less water, and controlling the amount of nutrients that each plant receives could mean big savings – for the company as well as for the environment.
Fertigation is the injection of water soluble fertilisers into an irrigation system. By applying the precise combination of plant nutrients, it is possible to ensure that an adequate supply of nutrients and water reaches each tobacco plant in the field.
This technique has never been used in the cigar world until November last year. The Israeli company CIG Irrigation Solutions was contracted to set up a pilot project for the Oliva Tobacco Company after researching its La Joya farm on the outskirts of Esteli in Nicaragua, and studying aerial photographs in order to determine the condition and characteristics of the soil.
Israel has been using it in agriculture since the Sixties, so it is not a new system but Oliva Tobacco is the first tobacco company ever to use it. According to the company corporate secretary Oliva, it could be a game changer in the tobacco industry. We are open minded into new technology, it would be pretty foolish to think that we’d keep doing it the same way my grandfather did.
We are still doing that, but if this system works out and we keep using it, I will only need two guys to control the whole operation. The irrigation system works by mixing water with nutrients before pumping it into the field in equal proportions over the same area. Today the traditional way of irrigation is by flooding the fields with unlimited water and fertilising the ground, without having any control over how much you are actually using and how much the tobacco receives.
The solution is directed towards the plant root zone according to the needs of each plant during the various growth stages. After analysing what kind of climate Esteli has, what nutrients are present in the soil, and what we need to grow quality tobacco, we use this information to calculate which nutrients and how much water to use.
We mix the water with something called Ferti Kit to fertilise the ground. The ground might already contain nutrients like potassium, nitrogen and phosphor, so we study it to see what’s available. After that, we apply what’s necessary, like calcium, magnesium, sulphur and boron, as well as the others already mentioned.
The solution is distributed via taps. The system automatically compensates when it needs to: If the pressures are too high, the tap closes, if it is too low, the tap opens.
Comparing plants in a field in which the company launched the project to one which is not part of the pilot project, we see that they aren’t the same height, although they were planted at the same time.
You also have less breakage, partly because we use water from below and not from above. So with this system you get better quality, quantity and affordability, and for the smoker it can mean a cigar with better flavour, look and value.
From an environmental aspect, as well as a financial one, for the Oliva Tobacco Company, the system also saves a lot of water. You can also irrigate whenever you want, like at night, which makes it even more efficient.