Rainless weather condition hits Assam tea production

Rainless weather condition, coupled with low humidity levels, has hit tea production in Assam. As per industry estimates, there would be around 50 per cent drop in production till April, as compared to production figures of last year.

Assam has received 64 mm of rain between March 1 and April 23, which is a departure of 67 per cent from normal. The industry feels if the present weather condition continues till May 5, then the crop production till May will be 60 per cent less, which would be around 50 million kg, compared to leaf harvested during normal weather. A turnaround in production in coming months can only come if, according to the tea industry, Assam receives at least 200 mm of rainfall in the month of May along with lowering of temperature and proper distribution of rainfall.

Moreover, there has also been high incidence of attack by pests and insects like looper, thrips, redspider and helopeltis due to weak health of tea bushes. The rainless condition has also cast doubts on second flush production, which generally starts from May and produces the best quality Assam tea.

"We fear a total crop loss of around 10 per cent in the whole season of 2014 which will be near about a whopping quantum of 60 million kg of tea. Production this year up to end April will be 50 per cent less, which would be about 30 million kg. The output of premium second flush tea will be severely limited, said Bidyananda Barkakoty, Chairman NETA.

There have been reports of dry and hot spell scorching and defoliating tea bushes, placing them under severe stress and even causing plant death.

"Due to radiation and temperature stress, scorching of tea leaves has been reported from many tea estates. Exposure to ambient temperature of 35 degree celsius to 38 degree celsius during six to seven hours of the whole day has resulted in leaf temperature of 37 degree celsius to 40 degree celsius even in well-shaded area of tea estates. Food manufacturing capability of tea declines rapidly above 35 degree leaf temperature and there is no food production from 39 degree to 42 degree leaf temperature. The visual symptoms of wilting of tea leaves have already been noticed but the physiological, biochemical and anatomical damages have occurred much earlier", said Prafulla Bordoloi, a consultant tea scientist.

According to the Assam tea industry, it had never experienced such long rainless period with temperatures even crossing 40 degree celsius. Normally, the humidity levels during this period of the years hover between 50 to 90 per cent, but this year it's around 20 to 50 per cent. Many tea estates have suspended plucking and stopped production due to no leaf. "Phenomenal crop-loss and shutting down of manufacturing facilities on the eve of second flush is unprecedented," said Mayank Agarwalla, a tea planter of Doomdooma. Doomdooma is otherwise known as a rainfed area.

Owing to the dry spell, the tea estates could not apply fertilizers till now, which might have an effect in tea production in coming months.

"Delayed fertilizer application, which now will have to be done during the monsoon season, may have an impact on the monsoon crop as well", said Prabhat Bezboruah, a tea planter of Jorhat.

Assam produced 620 million kg of tea in 2013 and around 52 million kg till April