BINTANGNEWS.com – High earnings seem a distant thing for tobacco farmers in the mountainous Merapi-Merbabu areas in Cepogo and Selo districts, Boyolali, Central Java, although they have already begun harvesting. This year’s wet dry season has threatened to reduce the quality of their tobacco leaves, which may lead to severe price drops.
“This year’s tobacco harvest yields are far from our expectations. Dried chopped leaves of tobacco were priced at Rp 80,000 [US$6.07] per kilogram, but now they are selling at only Rp 60,000,” said Sarmudi, 56, a resident of Sanden village in Cepogo, Boyolali.
“We have no choice. If we don’t immediately harvest our tobacco leaves, we will suffer greater losses because we have to allocate more treatment costs,” said Taryono.
After harvesting tobacco leaves, farmers must chop and dry them by spreading them out in the sun to dry. Unfortunately, the skies over the slopes of the Merapi and Merbabu mountains are often cloudy and tobacco leaves must be dried on the same day they are chopped. Chopped tobacco leaves will suffer damage if they are not dried within a day and their worth declines further.
In many cases, farmers must seek places with enough sunlight, usually in urban areas. They dry their chopped tobacco leaves on fields or roadsides. They also often have to rent the yard of residents’ houses to put their chopped tobacco in the sun to dry.
“These increase our production costs. To dry 1 ton of wet tobacco leaves, we have to spend around Rp 1 million to pay workers. This does not yet include transportation costs from Cepogo to drying places in those areas,” said Taryono.
Ironically, farmers cannot yet sell their dried chopped leaves to cigarette companies because so far no company has opened warehouses to store them.
Unlike Taryono, Sarwoto, 50, chose to delay his harvest because of ongoing heavy rainfall, which made the curing process more difficult. Uncertain weather might lead to a 50 percent drop both in harvest yields and tobacco quality, he said.
“It’s a wet weather now; thus, not many farmers are willing to chop tobacco leaves. On the other hand, cigarette factories have not yet started to bargain over prices,” he said.
The head of the Boyolali Agriculture, Plantation and Forestry Agency’s plantation unit, Widodo, said the wet dry season had decreased the production of dried tobacco in Boyolali to only about six to seven quintals per hectare. In 2015, the production could reach nine to 10 quintals, he said.
Widodo said for this year, 3,000 hectares of tobacco had been planted in Boyolali, spread across areas on the slopes of the Merapi and Merbabu mountains, such as in Ampel, Cepogo, Mojosongo, Musuk and Selo.
“Chopped Boyolali tobacco leaves are sold to big cigarette companies. Farmers usually sell their harvests to traders, who partner with the cigarette companies,” said Widodo. ***
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Editing: T. Bintang