Weather plays foul on tea

KOLKATA: Blame it on the weather gods if tea production in India does not touch the magical 1,000-million kilogram (mn kg) mark this year. Production was hit due to sparse rainfall from late September and the mercury has plunged before it usually does, affecting tea farming. Total production so far by north and south Indian gardens together is 730 mn kg. Industry experts are not very hopeful of touching the 1,000-mn kg mark. "Since September 20, Assam has experienced very dry weather. Both the north bank of the Brahmaputra as well as upper Assam received low rainfall. The tea crop output is dropping rapidly this month. So, even if it rains now, the Assam tea gardens won't have the same yield. Anyway, some rain is required now to stop the drought-like conditions in the gardens," Rossell India managing director Indian Tea Association (ITA) chairman C S Bedi told TOI. In 2010, the total tea production in India was 966.40 mn kg. "The only year when production came close to the 1,000-mn kg mark was 2007 when Indian gardens together produced 986 mn kg. But production declined in the two subsequent years," said Sujit Patra, ITA joint secretary. Till September, north Indian (including Darjeeling, Terai, Dooars and Assam) production was up by 36.7 mn kg compared to the same period last year. South Indian (Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) production during the same period was down by 4.6 mn kg. Till September last year, north and south Indian production was to the tune of 693 mn kg. Industry members also said since October was a festive month, plucking was affected. "This year, all Hindu religious festivals were in one month and there were some other religious festivals also that hit the crop," he said. "Although, there was a surge in crop production in the initial months, but I don't think it will be able to touch the 1,000 mn kg mark as temperatures in north India have already started dropping. Therefore, October, November and December will only see reduction in production," said Aditya Khaitan, managing director, McLeod Russel. His company is the world's largest tea producer. But the Darjeeling tea production can cheer up the tea buff. It is expected that Darjeeling's yield this year will be higher by 10-15% at around 9 mn kg. . "Till October, Darjeeling's 87 gardens together produced around 7.3 mn kg this year," said Darjeeling Tea Association secretary Kaushik Basu. Last year, Darjeeling produced 8 mn kg. Table: Indian Tea Production 2010: 966 mn kg 2009: 979 mn kg 2008: 981 mn kg 2007: 986 mn kg Source: Times of India