The premium quality tea producing period, which according to tea industry parlance is known as the 'Second Flush' and generally ranges from May to June, has been rather "short" and "not very sweet" this year for the Assam tea industry. According to industry captains, this year the weather has been so far "very erratic", coupled with inadequate and erratic supplies of gas and power, thus affecting tea production in the state. Both quality and production have taken a beating till now and prices of teas at auction centres are believed to be down by around Rs . 15 as compared to last year. "In 2013, the weather so far has been very erratic, starting with a prolonged drought followed by rain with low temperatures and then again a dry spell with temperatures soaring to as high as 37 degrees celsius.
Both production and quality have suffered and the prices are about Rs .15 below last year. We have had a short and not very sweet Second Flush," said Rajib Barooah, chairman of Assam Tea Planters' Association (ATPA). Barooah predicted that tea output in India might reach a record of 1.13 billion kg from 1.11 billion kg last year, as monsoon this year is expected to be normal. "Exports from south India have increased in the first quarter in 2013. Reportedly North India crop is up by 3.7 per cent between January and May this year compared to its corresponding period last year," Barooah added. However, he said tea production across the world was surging ahead; led by Kenya and Sri Lanka, which might have an effect on prices as well. He said last year tea prices were buoyant, so were the input costs resulting in a higher cost of production, thereby negating any substantive gain to the producers. The Assam tea industry rued that since 2011 the supply of gas has been inadequate and extremely irregular with very low pressure at most times, forcing the factories to close down temporarily. This interruption had a rippling effect on the plantations and the small tea growers supplying green leaves to tea factories. "As a result of this interruption, good leaf percentages dropped due to extended plucking rounds and in turn the leaf prices also come down causing discontentment amongst the suppliers," said Barooah. Erratic power supply has also been cited as another reason for increase in cost of production and quality deterioration at the manufacturing stage.