How the Industry Eradicates Beetles and Other Pests
By David "Doc" Diaz
Saturday, July 13, 2013
[Editor’s Note: For more information on the tobacco beetle and how to treat an outbreak, see previous article: “Tobacco Beetles.”]
Much ado has been made about the voracious tobacco beetle (Lasioderma serricorne), a hardy pest that can reduce your cigar collection to a pile of shredded leaves and beetle-scat in no time. Tobacco beetles are a serious consideration for the retailer or cigar collector. I have been asked if there are other bugs, like carpet beetles, that may also feed on tobacco. Obviously, there are going to be certain pests that are indigenous to the tobacco growing regions of the world, like the tobacco beetle or the tobacco moth (Ephestia elutella). But, as the finished product is shipped to destinations throughout the world, the completed cigar can be exposed to other pests that would gladly feast on your prized stogies. As Dr. Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way." If you’re a corn beetle and you find yourself in a tobacco field, well… I’m sure you’ll have at it.
Above: Tobacco Beetle (Lasioderma serricorne)
Whenever you find tobacco damage due to pests you probably won't care if it's a tobacco beetle, a tobacco moth or a carpet beetle (Anthrenus verbasci), or any other relative; you will want blood. You must take precautions with your smokes because regardless of the pest, you don’t want bugs floating around your humidor. Trust me on that.
It is clear that tobacco growers and manufacturers are concerned with all kinds of pests and they may use both natural and/or man-made chemical compounds to eradicate the variety of pests that may cause damage to the tobacco.
In the fields they will use pesticides that are designed to enter the plant circulation and then cycle out of the plant before it is harvested.
After harvest, the tobacco leaves are hung in the curing barns and at that time tobacco growers will often make fires to heat the barn to control the temperature inside the barn and they may use natural fumigant products, like tobacco leaf stems, to stoke the fire. The smoke from these stems acts as a natural fumigant.
Above: Tobacco leaf stems after removal (top rt.) and after burning in curing barn
Nicotine is toxic to many insects and for many years has been extracted from tobacco for use as a commercial pesticide. The juice from tobacco leaf stems, which also contain nicotine, can be mixed with water and used during fermentation to wet the fermenting leaves.
There are also fumigants that are used toward the end of the production cycle. Once when I was visiting a cigar factory a few years back, I noticed a poster that was produced by the Detia Degesch Company (below right). Detia Degesch is a leading producer of “stored product protectants,” which include fumigants, insecticides, rodent control and monitoring of stored products. The poster pictured all the different kinds of pests that can affect stored products. Whether products are stored in silos (like grains), or in tobacco warehouses, or even in completed cigars that are being stored in cigar boxes, they can be submitted to various product protectants. The poster showed different kinds of pests like the tobacco beetle, but there were also many others. Detia Degesch fumigation products will eradicate a wide variety of pests.
The fumigation process will often take place in the tobacco storage warehouses after the tobacco has been transported from the curing barns. The factory may fumigate them more than once during this phase. The fumigation used by tobacco companies typically employs aluminum phosphide or phosphine gas as the active substance. Aluminum phosphide is a grayish-green solid, which upon exposure to moist air will react to produce the gas hydrogen phosphide, or more commonly referred to as phosphine. It is used worldwide for fumigation of raw and processed commodities including grains, tobacco, cocoa beans, nuts, seeds, animal feeds, tea, coffee, wheat flour, processed spices, and dried fruits. It can also be used for fumigating storage structures like silos, warehouses, flourmills, ship holds, railcars, etc.
Fumigation may scare some people and no doubt, there is some risk involved if you were to ingest these chemicals directly or breathe them while they are being used to fumigate the tobacco. However, phosphine fumigation is registered and certified by the EPA and they continually reassess the best practices and policies and procedures for the safe use of this and other fumigants. It is worth noting that the actual tablets or pellets or dust from the pellets are not applied directly to the tobacco, but instead they are placed systematically throughout a sealed warehouse and, when exposed to humidity, the pellets create a gas in the tobacco storage area that is toxic to pests. After fumigation, the storage area is aerated for between 48-72 hours, depending on the size and type of storage containers for the tobacco.
Most companies that fumigate their products also use some type of monitoring system to check for pest infiltration of the tobacco. These monitoring systems typically function on basis of pheromones, the aromatic sexual lures or chemicals that are transmitted between the insect sexes. These scents are the same as those released by mating-ready female insects to transmit signals to the appropriate male sex partners. The scents are attractive to the target organisms and attract the insects into different trapping systems (e.g. glue traps, funnel traps).
Besides fumigation, many tobacco companies will use freezing. Freezing is typically used after the cigars have been packaged and are ready for shipping. Sometimes even the shipping containers are refrigerated. Freezing can control both the tobacco beetle and the tobacco moth, although the parameters required to achieve 100% mortality differ for each species.
The Tobacco beetle is thought to have originated in the warm climates of North Africa and thus is less cold tolerant than the tobacco moth, which originated in temperate regions in the northern hemisphere. Laboratory studies have shown that immature stages of both species are more tolerant of cold temperatures than adults. In fact, when exposed to cold temperatures (below 59°F), the larva will go into a state of hibernation or dormancy (diapause) that allows them to survive adverse conditions (such as extreme temperatures) with development resuming when conditions improve.
Therefore, heat is an enemy of your cigars in that it may create an incubation environment for the little buggers. The actual temperature that is necessary to kill 100% of a pest population in a controlled study were found to be:
For the Tobacco Beetle:
Option 1: -18°C (-0.4°F) for 24hrs.
Option 2: -25°C (-13°F) for 4hrs.
For the Tobacco Moth:
Option 1: -20°C (-4 °F) for 24hrs.
In summary, there are many pests that will consume tobacco, if given the chance, but most tobacco is subjected to various methods of eliminating pests. Warm temperatures are dangerous because any larvae that were not eradicated by fumigation, freezing and other methods may come out of dormancy with an attitude and with an appetite.
Aluminum phosphide fumigation - http://www.fumigationservice.com/
Aluminum phosphide fumigation with Detia Degesch products- http://www.detia-degesch.de/index.php?lang=en&hid=1
Freezing of tobacco - Coresta Guide No. 9 (November 2009). “Freezing Parameters for the Control of Cigarette Beetle and Tobacco Moth.”
Tobacco Hornworm: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manduca_sexta
Tobacco Moth: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephestia_elutella
Tobacco (Cigarette Beetle): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco_beetle
About the Author
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of the Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).blog comments powered by Disqus