Rain, poor sunlight likely to hit tea output in South

Persistent rain and low sunlight are expected to take toll on South Indian tea production. “Rains are often good for the tea crop but they should be interspersed with consistent sunshine to facilitate good plucking operations,” said an official of the United Planters Association of Southern India (UPASI). South India's tea production till July was down by close to 3.6 million kg on account of lower production in all the States. The only saving grace was that production from Nilgiris, which account for more than 50 per cent of Tamil Nadu's production, had not been affected. But all that seems to be changing now. “Unlike the previous months, production shortfalls are expected from the Nilgiris region as well in August. With persistent rain continuing into September, the production shortfall period could be further extended in this region,” Mr R. Sanjith, Head of Commodities, UPASI, said. July tea production in South India, and Tamil Nadu in particular, was higher due to higher output from the Nilgiris region, though lower production was reported from Kerala and other parts of Tamil Nadu. South Indian tea prices in general have been picking up in recent months, remaining just a notch above last year's levels. Last financial year ended with tea prices ruling firm to dearer at South India's auction centres. During the first quarter of the current year, prices were a tad lower than last year, although not very significantly. Prices have been rising further during the second quarter and the trend is likely to continue in the coming months. What has been holding the price line has been the lower production from South India. This was despite a huge increase in north Indian tea production by 33 million kg till July 2011. As the two regions, North and South India cater to different segments of the international markets and different taste segments in the domestic market, prices have not been overtly affected. The huge production shortfall reported from Kenya — estimated at 35-36 million kg — has also helped to keep international prices firm. While earlier reports had indicated that Sri Lankan production had not been much affected, more recent reports suggest that there could be shortfall of 1-1.5 million tonnes from the island nation. This could also go to strengthen the international prices in the short run.