Calcutta, March 3: Adverse weather is likely to delay the first flush production of Darjeeling tea, according to planters.
Inadequate rainfall and a persistent cold weather can hit the production of the first flush, which is harvested mid-March after the spring rains. The first flush fetches the highest value for tea as it is largely exported.
After the end of a season, estates prune the bushes to revive and regenerate the plants. Rains and a moderate warm weather help in the formation of buds and leaves. High altitude picking at a height of over 6,000 feet starts in the end of March. At lower altitudes, the picking starts by the middle of the month.
“Rain has not been much this year. There is shortage of water. From November last year to January, there was no rain, while some occurred in February. Planting happens October onwards. The crop could be down. There is a possibility of a 5-7 per cent less crop. There could be a delay in production of this high-value tea,” said S S. Bagaria, chairman, Darjeeling Tea Association.
According to Bagaria, the first flush contributes 20 per cent of the 8 million kg tea produced in the hill district.
“The rainfall is more than last year but not enough to have an early flush. Lower temperatures will also delay the first flush. If the crop does not come timely, it will impact our cash flow,” said Arun N. Singh, managing director, Goodricke Group Ltd. The company has three gardens in Darjeeling.
The Darjeeling brew has an average selling price of about Rs 360-365 a kilo. The first flush sells at a premium of Rs 500-700 a kilo or more. Signature gardens can fetch a much higher price.
“Its dry now. We did have rain last month. In value terms, the first flush of Darjeeling contributes 30 per cent to the total production in the hill district of Bengal. Earlier, we never did irrigation. But for the last eight years, rainfall has decreased significantly. We have been investing in irrigation and this has pushed up costs by Rs 50 a kilo,” added Sanjay Bansal, chairman of Ambootia Group.
Ambootia Group has 11 estates in the region and contributes 12 per cent to Darjeeling’s production.
Darjeeling has 87 estates and 50 per cent of its harvest are exported. Europe is the largest importer of Darjeeling tea and Germany is the hub of tea trade. It imports and re-exports to other countries in Europe, continental Europe, Japan and the US.