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The famous Havana tobacco of Cuba will probably
be produced on a much larger scale, and of even finer quality, when a stable government has been established in that island, that will encourage enterprise and thrift. The attractive qualities of the best grades of Havana leaf, especially from Vuelta de Abajo, are due more to the peculiar climate and soil of that region than to methods of culture. These are still crude in the extreme, owing to the natural indolence of the Creole planters. The best lands are flooded during the rainy season, and when the waters recede, a deposit of rich alluvium is left, but the rainfall is so uncertain, and irrigation not being practiced, that only one extra-prime crop can be counted on every five years, although one or two medium good crops may be obtained in the interval. Even where efforts have been made to produce larger crops by the use of manures or fertilizers, the work has not been done with judgment, and in some instances the burn and other qualities have been injuriously affected, —not so much because of the plant food, as of the ignorance in its use. It is very evident that the quantity of leaf produced on the island of Cuba can be enormously extended, and probably its quality improved, by the application of intelligence, brains and energy. This fact must also be borne in mind, in considering the future of the cigar-leaf crop of the United States.
On the island of Sumatra, however, cigar-wrapper tobacco culture has been reduced to a science, being controlled mainly by a few Dutch syndicates. Latterly, however, these people have tried to "kill the goose that lays the golden egg," by forcing a large yield through improper fertilization, not realizing the judgment that must be employed in artificially feeding this delicate plant. In 1895, there were 26 stock companies and 21 private plantations engaged in the industry on the east coast. The rapidity with which the industry has developed since this leaf got a foothold on the American market is shown in the accompanying table :
•Values are in United States currency.
The effect of the McKinley duty of $2 per pound on wrappers, was to very largely reduce Sumatra's crop in 1892. Many acres were surrendered to the jungle, and the crop that year was almost 100,000 bales less than the production of 234,000 bales in 1890. This decrease in the supple, and the reduction in the American duty to $1.50 per pound in 1894, gave another stimulus to the industry in Sumatra, and the'95 crop reached almost as large figures as that of six years earlier.
The famous Deli Maatschappy, or Pioneer Dutch county, produces nearly one-third of the entire Sumatran crop. It signalized the closing of its first quarter-century existence by submitting an elaborate report of its operations at the extraordinary general meeting of the company at Amsterdam, in November, 1894, from which our facts are condensed. It owns 21 establishments, and now produces about 50,000 bales yearly. In 1893, it paid a dividend of 100 per cent, and the average dividends paia to its stockholders have been over 75 per cent annually since 1880. During the past 23 years it has received an average of 50 cents per pound (United States currency) for its crop. Starting with a capital of 1120,000 in 1869, in 1894 its capital was $1,608,000, with a reserve fund of almost $2,000,000, besides paying the enormous dividends alluded to. In the course of 24 crop years, the company delivered to the Amsterdam market a total of 494,491 packages of tobacco, all its own product, or about 79,000,000 Amsterdam pounds, representing a value of $42,612,000, upon which a clear profit was made and paid to shareholders, of more than $11,457,000. This concern also handles the product of other plantations,—as much as 71,000 packages in one year. This is done not only for the profit arising from commissions on such sales, but to concentrate the entire Sumatra tobacco market at Amsterdam.
The plantations of this mammoth enterprise are arranged and conducted in the most businesslike and scientific manner. It employs over 16,000 workmen, and the European personnel of experts and administrators consists of 160 persons. Each of the 21 establishments has its administrator, and four or five assistants. The real office is at Medan, where is located an extensive hospital for the help, and similar hospitals are provided at other points. It has built tine roads, large canals for water drainage, railroads, and other public works.
The Deli Maatschappy's report shows that it was instrumental in organizing a combination among the planters to import coolie labor and pay it the lowest possible price. This policy involved certain features and exactions that were most reprehensible, and the result of which (in the ordinance of 1880) was to reduce the coolies to a condition of practical slavery. One Chinese coolie is employed to each one and three-fourths acres, and is paid from $1 to $8 for each 1000 tobacco plants delivered after the harvest. Japanese coolies get $6 a month, half as much for women, and board themselves; Other help and foremen getting $9 to $12 per month and boarding themselves. With a plow and two pair of but falo, about half an acre per day is plowed, after the cane brake and tropical growth has been cut away. Expert plowmen are paid $8 per month, and board themselves.
However high the tariff may be to exclude wrapper leaf from Sumatra, Mexico, or Cuba, another influence is at work that is destined to profoundly affect our domestic cigar-leaf industry. We refer to the experiments in cigar-leaf culture at the South and West and on the Pacific coast, to which a subsequent chapter is devoted. Unless all signs fail, leaf from those sections is destined to compete in the home market with crops grown in the old seedleaf States. It is too early to say whether the wrapper leaf industry will ever be driven out of the East, as the Eastern grower of wheat, broom corn, etc., has been obliged to give up these crops by Western competition.
But it is true that the demand for quality in cigar leaf is becoming more and more exacting. It is more t rue of cigar leaf than of manufacturing tobacco, that quality governs prices and profits. In many respects, also, cigar leaf is a more delicate plant than any of the manufacturing tobaccos—that is, its quality is more easily affected by soils, fertilizers, climate, culture and curing. Even after the crop is safely harvested, or properly cured, the cigar-leaf grower labors under another great disadvantage in having no regularly established market prices for his crop, owing to the illogical and unsystematic method of selling it, as described in Chapter XII.
The cost of producing cigar tobacco varies widely, even in the same sections. In the Connecticut valley, the most careful growers have arrived at the conclusion, that, taking one year with another, the actual cost of producing the crop ranges from 8 to 12 cents per pound, according to its quality and yield per acre. On the
Havana seedleaf, 188S crop, grown on Plot W, at Poqaonock. with Mapes Tobacco Manure, Wrapper Brand, alone. Jenkins report* this plot as ranking second among all raised that year, wlth Mapes Plot V third, "Although there la warcely any perceptible iinference lcetween the first five lots of tobacco." These wrappers were used on cigars and proved the equal of any wrapper used in cigar selhng at 10 to 15 cents eaclu This plot had received Mapes manure only for five successive years.