THE 2015 tobacco selling season has been pushed backward to March, from the traditional month of February, due to the late start of the season which delayed harvesting.
Auction sales will start on March 4 while contract sales will start from March 5, according to industry regulators.Experts in the industry said the late start of the 2014/2015 season, which started late December in most parts of the country, led to the late opening of the marketing season, although
before the land reform programme and soon after the agrarian reforms, the tobacco selling commenced early April. The Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) in a statement said auction sales would commence on Wednesday, March 4 followed by contract sales the following day. The golden leaf would be sold at the country’s three auction floors, namely Boka Tobacco Auction Floors, Tobacco Sales Floor and Premier Tobacco Auction Floors.
The country’s tobacco crop, one of the main sources of hard currency, was severely affected by the late start of the summer cropping season. The 2014/2015 cropping season derailed the
planting dates of the dryland crop leaving most smallholder farmers with a very poor quality tobacco crop. Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Wonder Chabikwa, said TIMB had consulted farmers after realising that some tobacco farmers, especially the dryland producers, were still harvesting and curing their crop.
“Looking at the real issues on the ground, the tobacco industry decided to push the dates to the first week of March. The season was late and the country’s tobacco cycle did not help the
situation. The dryland crop was affected by the late onset of the rains,” said Chabikwa.
“The irrigated crop that was planted on September 1 2014 is a good crop and we have no problems with that but the dryland crop is the problem because of late start of the season led to
transplanting delays which were meant to be done in October. Crops wilted and dried off. It also led to seedlings overgrowing in seedbeds and the transplanting deadline passed before
farmers could transplant,” Chabikwa said.
Thus yield per hectare is expected to further decline from the current 1 200 kg/ha and 2 500 kg/ha. Last year, experts said the low prices that characterised the season were a sign that
the crop quality had also deteriorated. Despite all the chaos and the missed planting deadliness in preparation for the marketing season, merchants last month indicated that they would not be buying low grade leaves, stating that an oversupply of tobacco on the international market had necessitated the move.
To those farmers that heeded the warning, they destroyed the lower level leaves commonly known as primings before harvesting.
“Merchants indicated that there was an oversupply of tobacco on the international market and still had a very large crop in their warehouses so they were still trying to sell last year’s
crop. An oversupply on the market means that buyers become more stringent when it comes to quality,” said Chabikwa.
With an oversupply of the crop on the market, local prices are expected to be low as merchants will only pay for high quality tobacco, while the crop output is also expected to decline
from the 222 million kilogrammes achieved in 2014.Buyers indicated that they would not buy primings and scarp as they can access those cheaper on the international market. As a result farmers have been encouraged to properly grade their crop so that they fetch a higher price.
Last year, the tobacco selling season opened on February 19 with strong output and firm prices with the first bale selling for US$4,85 per kilogramme.
More than 89 000 growers have registered for the 2015 season, with new registrations of 16 585 being recorded as farmers shifted from the growing the traditional crops of maize and
cotton to tobacco.