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Weather plays spoilsport with Assam tea industry

Supratim Dey  |  Kolkata/ Guwahati 

Weather woes continue to haunt Assam tea industry this year as rainless weather condition has resulted in 20 per cent dip in overall tea production till May. Things weren’t any better till mid-June either, making the industry worry as the Second Flush (the premium tea producing period which generally starts from mid-May and goes till June) got affected.

Though Tea Board hasn’t yet come out with the production figures for April and May, the estimate of 20 per cent dip in production till May has been put forth by tea industry based on inputs from the ground. Further, industry captains have termed the production till mid-June too as “very bad”. According to Tea Board figures, there was a dip of almost 27 per cent in tea production in the state till March till year as compared to the same period of last year. This year till March Assam produced around 19 million kgs of tea as compared to 27 million kgs produced during the corresponding period last year.    

Harsh weather condition has been continuing since October last year and had resulted in sharp decline in the initial months of 2012, the sharpest being 43 per cent in the month of January this year as compared to January last year.

However, though the tea industry had hoped that the production would improve in the latter months as the weather condition improved in the initial days of April; it soon turned harsh. 

“Prolonged drought from mid October, 2011 to end March, 2012 reduced production of Assam tea in the First Flush (production till April) period. Tea production up to April end was about 28 per cent less than 2011. The premium Second Flush (generally from mid-May to June) production has also started with a negative cropping trend and the production remained behind by about 20 per cent up to end of May. Even, the June crop till the middle of the month was very bad,” said Bidyananda Barkakoty, chairman of North Eastern Tea Association (NETA).

Being dependent almost wholly on rain, its quantity and distribution control the production of tea. Persistent rainless condition causes drought and prolonged drought has proved to be lethal for the tea plantation. The drought like situation had taken the highest toll of production in Upper Assam which is uncharacteristic for the region, Barkakoty said.

According to P Bordoloi, a tea scientist, in tea growing areas of Assam, 90-94 per cent of the total annual rainfall is normally received during 7 rainy months (April to October). 

During the remaining 5 months (November to March), only about 6-10 per cent of rainfall is normally received which causes the problem of moisture stress. Maximum moisture stress was in Mangaldai, Borsola, Tezpur, Nagaon, Golaghat and Karbi-Anglong tea circles this year

Bordoloi added: “Drought is a normal, recurrent feature of climate and is observed in all tea growing zones. It is still largely unpredictable and varies with regard to the time of occurrence, duration intensity, and extent of the area affected from year to year. But a rainfall departure of about 20 per cent from normal during November to March results in severe drought as it happened in the current production year.”

Tea plantation of Assam is also exposed to high temperature during the major growing period of April to October, said Bordoloi.

“The rise of temperature year by year is causing another stress. Leaf temperature of 350 C in tea bushes is the upper critical limit for food manufacturing and growth. Above this temperature, production declines sharply and between 390 C and 420 C, there is no net growth. Leaf temperature above 480 C damages leaf tissues which is also experienced in many  a times,” he said.

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First Published: Tue, June 26 2012. 00:34 IST