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Heat, Scanty Rains Spoil Assam Tea Party (April)

Heat wave and scanty rainfall have badly affected tea production in Assam, India's largest tea producing state, with planters fearing crop loss of nearly 10% this year. Pest attacks in some areas have worsened the situation, and it is feared that production of second flush will take a knock. The second flush, which comes in first week of May and accounts for at least 15% of the total production, is exported and commands a premium price in the domestic market. The first flush, which makes up 10% of the total output, was also damaged. "Due to radiation and temperature stress, scorching of tea leaves has been reported from many tea estates. Food manufacturing capability of tea declines rapidly above 35 degree Celsius leaf temperature, and there's no food production from 39 degree C to 42 C leaf temperature.

 

The visual signs of wilting of tea leaves have been noticed but physiological, biochemical and anatomical damages have occurred much earlier," said Prafulla Bordoloi, a consultant tea scientist. Tea planters of three prominent tea associations have done a sample survey on crop loss in tea estates in five districts of the Brahmaputra valley in Assam. According to survey, the five districts - Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia - that produce about 450 million kg tea annually (which makes up 70% of the state's total tea production) face huge damage to tea plantation because of six rainless months. The all-India rainfall anomaly is only 2% less, whereas in Assam it is 67% less between March 1 and April 23, this year.

 

Assam has received 64 mm rainfall against a normal of 196 mm. "The present extended dry and hot spell has scorched, and in some cases, defoliated bushes, placing them under severe stress and even causing plant death," said Prabhat Bezboruah, a tea planter from Jorhat. Many tea estates have suspended plucking and stopped production because there are no leaves. "The weather condition leading to phenomenal crop loss and shutting down of manufacturing facilities on the eve of second flush is unprecedented," said Mayank Agarwalla, a tea planter from Doomdooma, which is known as a rainfed area. Some planters even said that they haven't seen anything like this in the last 25 years, fearing that if it continues like this, the crop up to May-end will be 60% less. Things might improve if the area receives at least 200 mm rainfall in May along with lower temperature and proper distribution of rainfall, a planter added.

Economic Times , Delhi, Monday 28th April 2014